6.1 Polypharmacy, 75 years and over

Polypharmacy is when people are using five or more medicines at the same time. This can increase their risk of medicines-related harm. Find out about variation in rates of polypharmacy in the Fourth Australian Atlas of Healthcare Variation 2021.

At a glance

  • Polypharmacy is the concurrent use of multiple medicines. It is common in older people because they often have several chronic diseases that require management with medicines
  • Although polypharmacy may be appropriate for some older people, it can increase the risk of harm from medicines because there is a greater chance of taking medicines that could interact, and a greater chance of making mistakes with medicines. Older people are also more sensitive to the effects of medicines
  • After standardising to remove age and sex differences between populations, the rate of people aged 75 years and over dispensed five or more prescription medicines in 2018–19 was more than 6 times as high in the area with the highest rate compared with the area with the lowest rate. Almost 40% of people aged 75 years and over were dispensed five or more medicines
  • Interventions are needed to identify people at increased risk of harm from polypharmacy, such as frail people and those with several chronic conditions, to prompt timely review of their medicines.

Interactive maps, graphs and data

Data show variation in rates by geographic location of patient residence. To use the interactive maps and graphs:

  • Hover or click on maps and graphs for details of data points
  • Use the dropdown boxes at the bottom of graphs to select states and territories, SA3s or PHNs

Learn more about using the interactive Atlas or how to interpret the data.

Map of rates across Australia

Rates by local area

//viz.aihw.gov.au/t/Public/views/Histogram_Polypharmacy/Histogram?%3Aiid=1&%3Aembed=y#1

Rates by state and territory

//viz.aihw.gov.au/t/Public/views/SOP_Polypharmacy/Stateandterritory?%3Aiid=1&%3Aembed=y#1

Rates by remoteness and SES

//viz.aihw.gov.au/t/Public/views/SOP_Polypharmacy/RemotenessandSES?%3Aiid=1&%3Aembed=y#1

About the data

About the data  - Polypharmacy, 75 years and over

Data are sourced from the PBS dataset, which includes all prescriptions dispensed under the PBS and the Repatriation Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (RPBS), including under copayment prescriptions.

Data used in this report exclude doctors’ bag items and any programs with alternative supply arrangements (section 100 of the National Health Act 1953) in which patient-level details are not available, such as direct supply to remote Aboriginal   health services.

The PBS and RPBS do not cover medicines supplied  to public hospital inpatients, over-the-counter medicines or private prescriptions.

The dataset does not allow analysis by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status.

Rates are based on the number of people dispensed   five or more different medicines per 100,000 people aged 75 years and over in 2018–19.

To be counted, a medicine must have had four or more prescriptions dispensed for it in the year.

Medicines are counted as distinct if the Anatomical Therapeutic Chemical codes differ at the fourth level.

Patient count analysis reflects the number of unique patients that qualify according to the polypharmacy specification.

The analysis and maps are based on the patient’s post code recorded in their Medicare file and not the location of the prescriber or the dispensing pharmacy.

Rates are age and sex standardised to allow comparisons between populations with different age and sex structures.

Some data have been suppressed to manage volatility and confidentiality. This process takes into account the Australian Government Department of Health’s requirements for reporting PBS data (see the Technical Supplement). Data suppression for this item has been notably marked for remote areas of the Northern Territory. This is indicated on the maps in grey. Reporting for the Northern Territory was possible at a territory level.

 

About the Atlas and how to interpret the data visualisations

This document outlines how to interpret the data correctly and explains the limitations of the data prior to using the Atlas:

2021
Publication, report or update

Map of rates across Australia

Rates by local area

//viz.aihw.gov.au/t/Public/views/Histogram_Polypharmacy/Histogram?%3Aiid=1&%3Aembed=y#1

Rates by state and territory

//viz.aihw.gov.au/t/Public/views/SOP_Polypharmacy/Stateandterritory?%3Aiid=1&%3Aembed=y#1

Rates by remoteness and SES

//viz.aihw.gov.au/t/Public/views/SOP_Polypharmacy/RemotenessandSES?%3Aiid=1&%3Aembed=y#1

About the data

About the data  - Polypharmacy, 75 years and over

Data are sourced from the PBS dataset, which includes all prescriptions dispensed under the PBS and the Repatriation Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (RPBS), including under copayment prescriptions.

Data used in this report exclude doctors’ bag items and any programs with alternative supply arrangements (section 100 of the National Health Act 1953) in which patient-level details are not available, such as direct supply to remote Aboriginal   health services.

The PBS and RPBS do not cover medicines supplied  to public hospital inpatients, over-the-counter medicines or private prescriptions.

The dataset does not allow analysis by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status.

Rates are based on the number of people dispensed   five or more different medicines per 100,000 people aged 75 years and over in 2018–19.

To be counted, a medicine must have had four or more prescriptions dispensed for it in the year.

Medicines are counted as distinct if the Anatomical Therapeutic Chemical codes differ at the fourth level.

Patient count analysis reflects the number of unique patients that qualify according to the polypharmacy specification.

The analysis and maps are based on the patient’s post code recorded in their Medicare file and not the location of the prescriber or the dispensing pharmacy.

Rates are age and sex standardised to allow comparisons between populations with different age and sex structures.

Some data have been suppressed to manage volatility and confidentiality. This process takes into account the Australian Government Department of Health’s requirements for reporting PBS data (see the Technical Supplement). Data suppression for this item has been notably marked for remote areas of the Northern Territory. This is indicated on the maps in grey. Reporting for the Northern Territory was possible at a territory level.

 

About the Atlas and how to interpret the data visualisations

This document outlines how to interpret the data correctly and explains the limitations of the data prior to using the Atlas:

2021
Publication, report or update

Number of medicines

Rates by PHN by age group

//viz.aihw.gov.au/t/Public/views/Polypharmacy_additionalgraphs/RatesbyPHNandagegroup?%3Aiid=1&%3Aembed=y#1

About the data

About the data  - Polypharmacy, 75 years and over

Data are sourced from the PBS dataset, which includes all prescriptions dispensed under the PBS and the Repatriation Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (RPBS), including under copayment prescriptions.

Data used in this report exclude doctors’ bag items and any programs with alternative supply arrangements (section 100 of the National Health Act 1953) in which patient-level details are not available, such as direct supply to remote Aboriginal   health services.

The PBS and RPBS do not cover medicines supplied  to public hospital inpatients, over-the-counter medicines or private prescriptions.

The dataset does not allow analysis by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status.

Rates are based on the number of people dispensed   five or more different medicines per 100,000 people aged 75 years and over in 2018–19.

To be counted, a medicine must have had four or more prescriptions dispensed for it in the year.

Medicines are counted as distinct if the Anatomical Therapeutic Chemical codes differ at the fourth level.

Patient count analysis reflects the number of unique patients that qualify according to the polypharmacy specification.

The analysis and maps are based on the patient’s post code recorded in their Medicare file and not the location of the prescriber or the dispensing pharmacy.

Rates are age and sex standardised to allow comparisons between populations with different age and sex structures.

Some data have been suppressed to manage volatility and confidentiality. This process takes into account the Australian Government Department of Health’s requirements for reporting PBS data (see the Technical Supplement). Data suppression for this item has been notably marked for remote areas of the Northern Territory. This is indicated on the maps in grey. Reporting for the Northern Territory was possible at a territory level.

 

About the Atlas and how to interpret the data visualisations

This document outlines how to interpret the data correctly and explains the limitations of the data prior to using the Atlas:

2021
Publication, report or update

Number of medicines

Rates by PHN by age group

//viz.aihw.gov.au/t/Public/views/Polypharmacy_additionalgraphs/RatesbyPHNandagegroup?%3Aiid=1&%3Aembed=y#1

About the data

About the data  - Polypharmacy, 75 years and over

Data are sourced from the PBS dataset, which includes all prescriptions dispensed under the PBS and the Repatriation Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (RPBS), including under copayment prescriptions.

Data used in this report exclude doctors’ bag items and any programs with alternative supply arrangements (section 100 of the National Health Act 1953) in which patient-level details are not available, such as direct supply to remote Aboriginal   health services.

The PBS and RPBS do not cover medicines supplied  to public hospital inpatients, over-the-counter medicines or private prescriptions.

The dataset does not allow analysis by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status.

Rates are based on the number of people dispensed   five or more different medicines per 100,000 people aged 75 years and over in 2018–19.

To be counted, a medicine must have had four or more prescriptions dispensed for it in the year.

Medicines are counted as distinct if the Anatomical Therapeutic Chemical codes differ at the fourth level.

Patient count analysis reflects the number of unique patients that qualify according to the polypharmacy specification.

The analysis and maps are based on the patient’s post code recorded in their Medicare file and not the location of the prescriber or the dispensing pharmacy.

Rates are age and sex standardised to allow comparisons between populations with different age and sex structures.

Some data have been suppressed to manage volatility and confidentiality. This process takes into account the Australian Government Department of Health’s requirements for reporting PBS data (see the Technical Supplement). Data suppression for this item has been notably marked for remote areas of the Northern Territory. This is indicated on the maps in grey. Reporting for the Northern Territory was possible at a territory level.

 

About the Atlas and how to interpret the data visualisations

This document outlines how to interpret the data correctly and explains the limitations of the data prior to using the Atlas:

2021
Publication, report or update

Data

Download the data sheet for Polypharmacy, 75 years and over: 

Technical Supplement

Download the Technical Supplement: 

2021
Publication, report or update

Data

Download the data sheet for Polypharmacy, 75 years and over: 

Technical Supplement

Download the Technical Supplement: 

2021
Publication, report or update