Scotland House hosts conference addressing the challenges of multi-medication in Europe’s elderly

Scotland House hosted the final conference of the SIMPATHY (Stimulating Innovation Management of Polypharmacy and Adherence in the Elderly) project, which aims to tackle the global health challenges associated with polypharmacy and inappropriate use of prescription medications. According to data collected by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank, polypharmacy accounts for 4% of total avoidable healthcare costs and 0.3% of total global expenditure, which equates to roughly $18 billion.

The SIMPATHY project brought together partners from eight EU Member States, and received funding from the EU health programme 2014-2020. Owing to its success in the field of polypharmacy management, particularly in terms of producing highly-scoring appraisal guidelines for research and evaluation, the Scottish Government led the project in conjunction with partners from Scotland (Robert Gordon University and NHS24), Sweden, Spain, Portugal, Northern Ireland, Germany, Italy, Greece, and Poland.

The conference consisted of a number of short interventions from experts across the field, covering a wide range of the challenges and proposed solutions. The event was introduced by Alpana Mair, Head of Effective Prescribing and Therapeutics in the Scottish Government, who is also the SIMPATHY Project Coordinator.

The Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, Shona Robison MSP, commended the work of the project and reaffirmed the Scottish Government’s commitment to the cause, demonstrating this by signing the project’s three-fold pledge to:

  • Learn more about the challenge
  • Help raise awareness of the solutions
  • Help advocate for change and improvement

Following a video presentation showing the impact of polypharmacy on real-life patients, an audience of around 100 people from all across the healthcare profession took part in an interactive session with to a panel of experts from the WHO, the European Commission, Harvard University, the International Foundation for Integrated Care (IFIC), the European Society for Patient Adherence, Compliance and Safety (ESPACOMP), and the Promoter to Action Group of the European Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing (PROEIPAHA).  

Following the first set of interventions, a panel of expert speakers took the floor to communicate their suggestions for the future priorities in the field of polypharmacy, which developed into an interactive discussion with the audience on a shared vision for polypharmacy. Participants agreed that a collaborative approach is needed between the different levels of healthcare professionals and better coordination across services, as well as moving towards a more personalised approach to medication. Empowering patients was also cited as an integral element of the vision, which would in turn allow for better adherence to medication requirements.  

A number of suggestions were discussed for the strategy going forward, as well as concerns related to issues such as storing and recording of patient data. The panel agreed that a more organised and centralised way of storing patient information would contribute to more cohesive medical treatment, in which the EU has a part to play through development of the Digital Single Market. It was stated that lifelong learning and knowledge-sharing among healthcare professionals is a crucial element of better prescriptions, and there is a strong role for the EU to play in encouraging Member States to keep multi-medication high on the political agenda.

Throughout the day, speakers and audience members were asked to sign the pledge to affirm their commitment to the three-fold aims of the project. The pledge board also appeared at the 17th International Conference on Integrated Care on 8-10 May in Dublin in an effort to encourage more signatures. After lunch, renowned thought leader Marty Linsky from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government led a roundtable workshop on effective leadership in a public sector context. 

SIMPATHY – Event page

Stephanie Abrahams