Alice Bonner of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) contextualizes a new report suggesting that if prescribing patterns do not change in the US, older adults will experience at least 74 million adverse drug events requiring medical care and will be hospitalized nearly 5 million times in the next decade. Eliminating Medication Overload: A National Action Plan, a report issued by the Lown Institute, is based on input from national experts, and highlights the risks of overprescribing and overuse of medications, particularly in older adults. The report is both a wakeup call and a roadmap that offers policy recommendations and guidance for health care institutions, clinicians, and older adults to reduce harm from multiple medication use.

While medications are helpful for many people, medication overload is the use of multiple drugs that pose a greater risk of harm than benefit. Polypharmacy, as medication overload is often called in the scientific literature, is one of the geriatric syndromes that can lead to serious adverse events, including death. There are challenges in prescribing for older adults, particularly those with multiple, interacting conditions. Polypharmacy may result from an older adult seeking medical care from multiple providers who often do not communicate with one another. Furthermore, medication errors are more common and often more serious when older people move from one setting to another, for example, going from outpatient to inpatient hospital care, transferring from hospital to skilled nursing facility (SNF), or from SNF to home.

How to Address the Harm of Medical Overload


Read more about recommendations for addressing medication overload and the role of Age-Friendly Health Systems (AFHS) in putting these recommendations into action on IHI’s website.