Interventions to optimise prescribing for older people in care homes


Older people living in care homes (also called nursing homes, residential homes, skilled-nursing facilities, assisted-living facilities or aged-care facilities) have many complex physical and mental health problems. Care home residents are prescribed many medicines compared to people who live in their own homes, with an average of eight medicines being common. International research has shown that these medicines are often not well managed, with some residents prescribed medicines inappropriately. This has the potential to lead to harmful side effects and a loss of benefit. For these reasons, it is important to make sure that care home residents are prescribed the right medicines at the right doses. This is an update of a previously published review (Alldred 2013).

Study characteristics

We found 12 studies involving 10,953 residents in 355 care homes in ten countries that evaluated interventions to optimise prescribing for care home residents. Most of the interventions had several components, often involving a review of medicines with a pharmacist and doctor. Some interventions included a teaching component and one study used Information Technology (IT).

Key results

We found no evidence of benefit of the interventions with respect to reducing adverse drug events (harmful effects caused by medicines) or death. One study led to residents having fewer days in hospital; however, the majority of studies did not show a benefit in relation to reducing hospital admissions. One study led to a slower decline in health-related quality of life. Problems relating to medicines were found and addressed through the interventions used in the studies. Prescribing was improved based on criteria used to assess the appropriateness of prescribing in five studies.

Certainty of the evidence

We judged the overall quality of the evidence for the reported outcomes to be low for adverse drug events (harmful effects caused by medicines), hospital admissions, death, quality-of-life, medication-related problems, medication appropriateness, and very low for the cost of medicines. More high-quality studies need to be done to gather more evidence for these and other types of interventions. Further studies are needed to evaluate new technologies, including computer systems that support prescribing decisions. More work needs to be done to make sure that researchers are consistently measuring outcomes that are important to care home residents.

Authors' conclusions: 

We could not draw robust conclusions from the evidence due to variability in design, interventions, outcomes and results. The interventions implemented in the studies in this review led to the identification and resolution of medication-related problems and improvements in medication appropriateness, however evidence of a consistent effect on resident-related outcomes was not found. There is a need for high-quality cluster-randomised controlled trials testing clinical decision support systems and multidisciplinary interventions that measure well-defined, important resident-related outcomes.

Read the full abstract...

There is a substantial body of evidence that prescribing for care home residents is suboptimal and requires improvement. Consequently, there is a need to identify effective interventions to optimise prescribing and resident outcomes in this context. This is an update of a previously published review (Alldred 2013).


The objective of the review was to determine the effect of interventions to optimise overall prescribing for older people living in care homes.

Search strategy: 

For this update, we searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (including the Cochrane Effective Practice and Organisation of Care (EPOC) Specialised Register), MEDLINE, EMBASE and CINAHL to May 2015. We also searched clinical trial registries for relevant studies.

Selection criteria: 

We included randomised controlled trials evaluating interventions aimed at optimising prescribing for older people (aged 65 years or older) living in institutionalised care facilities. Studies were included if they measured one or more of the following primary outcomes: adverse drug events; hospital admissions; mortality; or secondary outcomes, quality of life (using validated instrument); medication-related problems; medication appropriateness (using validated instrument); medicine costs.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two authors independently screened titles and abstracts, assessed studies for eligibility, assessed risk of bias and extracted data. We presented a narrative summary of results.

Main results: 

The 12 included studies involved 10,953 residents in 355 (range 1 to 85) care homes in ten countries. Nine studies were cluster-randomised controlled trials and three studies were patient-randomised controlled trials. The interventions evaluated were diverse and often multifaceted. Medication review was a component of ten studies. Four studies involved multidisciplinary case-conferencing, five studies involved an educational element for health and care professionals and one study evaluated the use of clinical decision support technology. We did not combine the results in a meta-analysis due to heterogeneity across studies. Interventions to optimise prescribing may lead to fewer days in hospital (one study out of eight; low certainty evidence), a slower decline in health-related quality of life (one study out of two; low certainty evidence), the identification and resolution of medication-related problems (seven studies; low certainty evidence), and may lead to improved medication appropriateness (five studies out of five studies; low certainty evidence). We are uncertain whether the intervention improves/reduces medicine costs (five studies; very low certainty evidence) and it may make little or no difference on adverse drug events (two studies; low certainty evidence) or mortality (six studies; low certainty evidence). The risk of bias across studies was heterogeneous.