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When Is Antipsychotic Polypharmacy Supported by Research Evidence? Implications for QI

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Background: Concurrent use of multiple standing antipsychotics (antipsychotic polypharmacy) is increasingly common among both inpatients and outpatients. Although this has often been cited as a potential quality-of-care problem, reviews of research evidence on antipsychotic polypharmacy have not distinguished between appropriate versus inappropriate use.

Methods A MEDLINE search from 1966 to December 2007 was completed to identify studies comparing changes in symptoms, functioning, and/or side effects between patients treated with multiple antipsychotics and patients treated with a single antipsychotic. The studies were reviewed in two groups on the basis of whether prescribing was concordant with guideline recommendations for multiple-antipsychotic use.

Results A review of the literature, including three randomized controlled trials, found no support for the use of antipsychotic polypharmacy in patients without an established history of treatment resistance to multiple trials of monotherapy. In patients with a history of treatment resistance to multiple monotherapy trials, limited data support antipsychotic polypharmacy, but positive outcomes were primarily found in studies of clozapine augmented with a second-generation antipsychotic.

Discussion Research evidence is consistent with the goal of avoiding antipsychotic polypharmacy in patients who lack guideline-recommended indications for its use. The Joint Commission is implementing a core measure set for Hospital-Based Inpatient Psychiatric Services. Two of the measures address antipsychotic polypharmacy. The first measure assesses the overall rate. The second measure determines whether clinically appropriate justification has been documented supporting the use of more than one antipsychotic medication.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2008-10-01

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