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Donna Bartlett

On a Mission to Reduce Unnecessary Medications

  • Associate Professor of Pharmacy Practice Donna Bartlett encourages providers to consider “deprescribing.”

    Practicing geriatric pharmacist Donna Bartlett has noticed a trend: Seniors often take medications that they no longer need. For example, she encountered a patient in a case review taking 13 medications and soon realized that 5 were potentially unnecessary or inappropriate.

    “Doctors tend to keep prescriptions on file unless a patient complains or voices a need for a change in their medication,” explained Dr. Bartlett, BS’ 95 PharmD’ 10, BCGP, RPh. “But these medications can cause side effects and they aren’t always suited to the changing physiology of the patient.”

    Dr. Bartlett is on a mission to reduce the number of unnecessary medications that patients take. An associate professor of pharmacy practice at MCPHS, she works with a team of student pharmacists to evaluate the medications that have been prescribed to patients in light of their ailments and condition and suggest changes. She is also working to encourage “deprescribing” throughout the healthcare community, including by sharing her perspective in a new book, “MedStrong: Shed Your Meds for a Better, Healthier You,” and as a podcast host for the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists.

    “We see people end up in the hospital because they are overmedicated,” said Dr. Bartlett. “It’s very troubling and completely unnecessary.”

    She even encountered a heart failure patient who was taking ibuprofen, which can make the condition worse. Dr. Bartlett urges all healthcare providers to think holistically about a patient’s health as they manage conditions and medications. And she encourages patients to ask questions.

    It is particularly important to see the big picture when healthcare professionals are working with a geriatric population. Many elderly patients have multiple health issues and have been prescribed multiple medications. A medication review is often appropriate for these individuals, which can lead to deprescribing and optimizing medications.

    “I’m not saying don’t take medicine,” said Dr. Bartlett. “I’m just saying to deprescribe to optimize thoughtfully with your providers in a systemic way.”