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Using pen and paper to issue prescriptions without having access to the medical records may have acted as a powerful reminder to all of us of the dangers of polypharmacy. Over the last 15 years, we have assisted in a significant increase in the number of repeat prescriptions, particularly in the over 60s. I have counted more than 20 medications on repeat prescription for one patient, and it is not unusual to count 10 or more. With each added drug, the risk of side effects increases.
IT software helps the prescriber to remain aware of the several possible interactions. Furthermore, it does limit without eliminating, the risk of prescribing errors in the several forms they may take place, including handwriting misunderstanding. It is common for patients with polypharmacy not to be fully aware of the name of all the medications they are taking and the reasons for which they had been prescribed. I cannot refrain from wondering if the introduction of electronic medical records may have facilitated the growth of polypharmacy. Mindful that other IT crashes are more likely than not, besides limiting where possible polypharmacy, perhaps we could print for each patient a list of their medications, their posology and the problem they have been advised for.