The role of older patients’ goals in GP decision-making about medicines: a qualitative study

Publication Name

BMC Family Practice


Background: To optimise medication use in older people, it is recommended that clinicians evaluate evidence on potential benefits and harms of medicines in light of the patients’ overall health, values and goals. This suggests general practitioners (GPs) should attempt to facilitate patient involvement in decision-making. In practice this is often challenging. In this qualitative study, we explored GPs’ perspectives on the importance of discussing patients’ goals and preferences, and the role patient preferences play in medicines management and prioritisation. Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with GPs from Australia (n = 32). Participants were purposively sampled to recruit GPs with variation in experience level and geographic location. Transcribed audio-recordings of interviews were coded using Framework Analysis. Results: The results showed that most GPs recognised some value in understanding older patients’ goals and preferences regarding their medicines. Most reported some discussions of goals and preferences with patients, but often this was initiated by the patient. Practical barriers were reported such as limited time during busy consultations to discuss issues beyond acute problems. GPs differed on the following main themes: 1) definition and perception of patients’ goals, 2) relationship with the patient, 3) approach to medicines management and prioritisation. We observed that GPs preferred one of three different practice patterns in their approach to patients’ goals in medicines decisions: 1) goals and preferences considered lower priority – ‘Directive’; 2) goals seen as central – ‘Goal-oriented’; 3) goals and preferences considered but not explicitly elicited – ‘Tacit’. Conclusions: This study explores how GPs differ in their approach to eliciting patients’ goals and preferences, and how these differences are operationalised in the context of older adults taking multiple medicines. Although there are challenges in providing care that aligns with patients’ goals and preferences, this study shows how complex decisions are made between GPs and their older patients in clinical practice. This work may inform future research that investigates how GPs can best incorporate the priorities of older people in decision-making around medicines. Developing practical support strategies may assist clinicians to involve patients in discussions about their medicines.

Open Access Status

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Article Number


Funding Sponsor

Australian Association of Gerontology



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