Article Text

What do clinical practice guidelines say about deprescribing? A scoping review
  1. Aili Veronica Langford1,2,
  2. Imaan Warriach1,3,
  3. Aisling M McEvoy1,
  4. Elisa Karaim1,
  5. Shyleen Chand1,
  6. Justin P Turner1,
  7. Wade Thompson4,
  8. Barbara J Farrell5,6,
  9. Danielle Pollock7,
  10. Frank Moriarty8,
  11. Danijela Gnjidic9,
  12. Nagham J Ailabouni10,
  13. Emily Reeve1,11
  1. 1Centre for Medicine Use and Safety, Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Parkville, Victoria, Australia
  2. 2The University of Sydney School of Public Health, Faculty of Medicine and Health, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  3. 3UCL School of Pharmacy, University College London, London, UK
  4. 4Department of Anesthesiology, Pharmacology, and Therapeutics, The University of British Columbia Faculty of Medicine, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
  5. 5Bruyere Research Institute, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
  6. 6Department of Family Medicine, University of Ottawa Faculty of Medicine, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
  7. 7Health Evidence Synthesis, Recommendations and Impact, School of Public Health, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, The University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
  8. 8School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences, RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences, Dublin, Ireland
  9. 9The University of Sydney School of Pharmacy, Faculty of Medicine and Health, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  10. 10The Pharmacy Australian Centre of Excellence (PACE), The University of Queensland Faculty of Health and Behavioural Sciences, Herston, Queensland, Australia
  11. 11Quality Use of Medicines and Pharmacy Research Centre, University of South Australia, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Dr Aili Veronica Langford, Centre for Medicine Use and Safety, Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Parkville, Victoria, Australia; aili.langford{at}


Introduction Deprescribing (medication dose reduction or cessation) is an integral component of appropriate prescribing. The extent to which deprescribing recommendations are included in clinical practice guidelines is unclear. This scoping review aimed to identify guidelines that contain deprescribing recommendations, qualitatively explore the content and format of deprescribing recommendations and estimate the proportion of guidelines that contain deprescribing recommendations.

Methods Bibliographic databases and Google were searched for guidelines published in English from January 2012 to November 2022. Guideline registries were searched from January 2017 to February 2023. Two reviewers independently screened records from databases and Google for guidelines containing one or more deprescribing recommendations. A 10% sample of the guideline registries was screened to identify eligible guidelines and estimate the proportion of guidelines containing a deprescribing recommendation. Guideline and recommendation characteristics were extracted and language features of deprescribing recommendations including content, form, complexity and readability were examined using a conventional content analysis and the SHeLL Health Literacy Editor tool.

Results 80 guidelines containing 316 deprescribing recommendations were included. Deprescribing recommendations had substantial variability in their format and terminology. Most guidelines contained recommendations regarding for who (75%, n=60), what (99%, n=89) and when or why (91%, n=73) to deprescribe, however, fewer guidelines (58%, n=46) contained detailed guidance on how to deprescribe. Approximately 29% of guidelines identified from the registries sample (n=14/49) contained one or more deprescribing recommendations.

Conclusions Deprescribing recommendations are increasingly being incorporated into guidelines, however, many guidelines do not contain clear and actionable recommendations on how to deprescribe which may limit effective implementation in clinical practice. A co-designed template or best practice guide, containing information on aspects of deprescribing recommendations that are essential or preferred by end-users should be developed and employed.

Trial registration number

  • Clinical practice guidelines
  • Decision support, clinical
  • Evidence-based medicine
  • Medication safety
  • Clinical pharmacology

Data availability statement

All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as supplementary information.

This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited, appropriate credit is given, any changes made indicated, and the use is non-commercial. See:

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.


  • Deprescribing is an integral component of appropriate prescribing. Additional guidance for healthcare professionals has been proposed as a mechanism to increase deprescribing in practice.


  • While deprescribing recommendations are increasingly being incorporated into guidelines, there is significant variability in their content and format. Few guidelines contain clear, comprehensive and actionable recommendations on how to deprescribe.


  • Guideline developers need to consider deprescribing within the scope of guidelines and optimise the content, format and language of recommendations to enable ease of interpretation and implementation.


Potentially inappropriate medicines (PIMs) are medicines where the potential harm outweighs the expected benefit.1 2 In the UK, an estimated 10% of the 1.1 billion medicines dispensed each year are deemed potentially inappropriate,3 contributing to undesired outcomes including drug-drug interactions, adverse drug reactions, non-adherence, falls, hospitalisations and mortality.4 5 High rates of PIM use have been observed internationally, with one-third to a half of older adults taking one or more PIMs.6–8

Clinical practice guidelines (guidelines) are statements containing recommendations informed by a systematic review of the evidence, intended to mitigate variation in practice and optimise patient care.9 While guidelines play a vital role in promoting evidence-based care, they may not prompt consideration of how to optimally manage the complexities or competing demands of multimorbidity or frailty, nor take into account the potential impacts of drug-drug and drug-disease interactions.10 11 Well-intentioned healthcare professional adherence to prescribing recommendations contained in guidelines may therefore be a driver of PIM use.

Deprescribing, an integral component of appropriate prescribing,12 refers to the systematic process of dose reducing or discontinuing a medicine under the supervision of a healthcare professional.13 At a societal level, deprescribing plays an important role in reducing low-value care and overtreatment, as well as avoiding preventable medicine-related harm.14 15 At the patient level, benefits may include improved adherence, reduced medicine-related costs and burden, and resolution of adverse drug reactions.16 17 However, implementation of deprescribing in practice remains limited due to various patient, prescriber and organisation-level barriers.18 Specifically, limitations in healthcare professionals’ knowledge of when and how to safely and effectively deprescribe, and their perceived lack of self-efficacy to cease medications have been reported.19 Such findings suggest that additional guidance for healthcare professionals may increase deprescribing in practice.

Guidelines have the potential to support deprescribing, yet historically, they have included limited deprescribing recommendations.11 20 21 Over the last decade, medication-class-specific deprescribing guidelines have been developed,22–27 but their recommendations have not yet been integrated into treatment guidelines. Additionally, despite language being recognised as a core determinant of guideline implementability,28 29 there is limited evidence on whether the language of deprescribing recommendations is clear and actionable, facilitating safe and effective deprescribing in practice. This review aimed to identify guidelines containing deprescribing recommendations, qualitatively explore the content and format of deprescribing recommendations and estimate the proportion of guidelines that contain deprescribing recommendations.


A scoping review was conducted in accordance with the Joanna Briggs Institute methods30 and the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic review and Meta-Analysis extension for Scoping Reviews statement,31 by researchers and healthcare professionals with expertise in deprescribing, guideline development and scoping review methodology. The review protocol is hosted on Open Science Framework.32

Operational definitions

Clinical practice guideline: A guidance document developed by a multidisciplinary team that includes recommendations (or equivalent based on different terminology used internationally) that can be applied by a healthcare professional to inform patient care.9 Recommendations must be informed by a systematic literature review (or termed an ‘extensive evidence review’ for National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidelines). For the purpose of this review, clinical practice guidelines are either;

Treatment guidelines

A clinical practice guideline that primarily focuses on the treatment of a condition and contains prescribing recommendations, but may also contain deprescribing recommendations.

Deprescribing-focused guidelines

A clinical practice guideline that primarily focuses on deprescribing medications.


Actionable statements contained within a clinical practice guideline, intended to optimise patient care. Recommendations can be;


Guidance informed by a systematic review of the evidence in addition to an assessment of the benefits/harms of alternative treatment options.9

Good practice statements

Guidance informed by indirect evidence outside the scope of a systematic search strategy that a guideline panel feels are important to include but are not appropriate for formal ratings of the quality of evidence.33 Also referred to as ‘best practice statements’ or ‘practice points’.34 35

Data sources and searches

Three search strategies were developed to identify eligible guidelines, executed in; (1) bibliographic databases, (2) Google and (3) guideline registries.

  1. A systematic, bibliographic database search of MEDLINE via OVID, EMBASE via OVID and CINAHL Plus via EBSCOhost was conducted with results limited to the past 10 years (January 2012 to November 2022). Search terms related to ‘deprescribing’ and ‘guidelines’ were used (see online supplemental file 1 for full search strategy).

  2. A restricted Google search was performed in February 2023 using incognito mode and the search term; ‘Guidelines (deprescribing or withdrawal or stop or discontinue or medication)’.

  3. Four guideline registries were queried in February 2023; Guidelines International Network, Canadian Medical Association Infobase, MAGICapp and GuidelineCentral, to identify all guidelines published in English from January 2017 to February 2023. The purpose of the guideline registry search was to identify additional eligible guidelines for inclusion in the review and estimate the proportion of guidelines containing deprescribing recommendations. Restricting the registry search to the last 5 years (from the date of our initial search in November 2022) was both a pragmatic decision based on anticipation of a large number of guidelines that would be identified, and a mechanism to allow for an up-to-date estimate of the prevalence of deprescribing recommendations in current guidelines.

Supplemental material

Additional eligible guidelines were identified through citation searching of articles identified in each of the aforementioned search strategies.

Study selection

Eligibility criteria

Guidelines were included if they met our operational definition of a clinical practice guideline (based on the Institute of Medicine’s criteria9), were published in English from 2012 onwards, and contained at least one deprescribing recommendation (ie, for who, when, when not, why or how to dose reduce, cease or substitute a medication with a medication from a different class). If multiple versions of a guideline were identified, only the most recent update was used.

Guidelines that focused on acute treatment (eg, emergency department or intensive care unit settings, medicines used short term for acute conditions) or related exclusively to surgery or interventional investigations were excluded. Guidelines that only contained recommendations for pharmacological substitution to a medication within the same drug class, or suggested dose adjustments based on physiological characteristics (eg, renal or hepatic function) and those relating to treatment of substance use disorders, vaccines, blood products or illicit substances were also excluded. The full eligibility criteria are presented in online supplemental file 2.


A piloting exercise for each search strategy was conducted prior to screening commencement.

  1. All records identified through the bibliographic database search were imported into Covidence. Following de-duplication, two rounds of screening (title and abstract, then full text) were performed in duplicate by two independent reviewers.

  2. For the restricted Google search, the first 200 retrieved results were extracted into an Excel spreadsheet. Two independent reviewers screened 50 results at a time, starting with the most relevant results at the top of the page. An a priori decision was made for screening to conclude when no relevant results were identified in the previous batch of 50 records.

  3. For the registries search, all guidelines were exported into Excel, from which a 10% sample from each registry was randomly selected using the ‘Randomise Range’ function. This random 10% sample was chosen due to the large number of guidelines contained in the registries, and their limited search functionality. This sample provided a practical number of guidelines for screening and enabled an estimation of the prevalence of relevant guidelines containing at least one deprescribing recommendation. Two screening phases were performed by two independent reviewers. The first screening phase applied all eligibility criteria to the full-text guidelines, except for whether the guideline contained a deprescribing recommendation or not. The second screening phase determined whether the guidelines identified contained one or more deprescribing recommendations.

For all three search strategies, any potentially eligible guidelines identified through citation searching were screened in duplicate to determine eligibility. Disagreements regarding study inclusion were resolved through discussions between the reviewers and the first and senior author if required.

Data extraction

Data extraction was piloted and performed by two independent reviewers using a standardised data collection form (online supplemental file 3). Characteristics of the guideline (eg, region and year of publication) and recommendation characteristics (eg, strength and certainty of evidence, based on an approach such as Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE))36 were extracted. Each guideline was assigned a first-level Anatomical Therapeutic Classification code, developed by the WHO, based on the physiological system that the medication(s) in the guideline targeted. This classification was used to group guidelines and explore which medical specialties routinely include deprescribing recommendations in their guidelines. The strength and certainty of the evidence for each recommendation were extracted and converted to a standardised format using methods described by Klugar, et al.37

Data synthesis and analysis

Descriptive statistics were used to summarise the characteristics of the included guidelines and deprescribing recommendations. Frequencies and percentages were used for categorical characteristics and means with SD or medians and ranges were reported for numerical characteristics, dependent on whether the data was normally distributed.

A conventional content analysis38 was performed to examine the language features of each deprescribing recommendation. An inductive approach was employed whereby the text of each recommendation was reviewed word by word and open coding was performed to create categories and subcategories. These were iteratively refined following group discussions between the research team. Each deprescribing recommendation was coded by two independent reviewers, then codes were compared and an agreement was reached. Inductively derived categories were then mapped to a framework, informed by Bloom and Lahey’s model for defining language which recognises three separate but intersecting language concepts influencing meaning: content, form and use.39 As written, rather than spoken text was examined, inductively derived categories were mapped to the form and content components.

Using NVivo (V.13),40 matrix tables were produced to explore variability in characteristics of the deprescribing recommendation language, dependent on whether the guideline was deprescribing-focused or not. The complexity and readability of recommendations were calculated using the SheLL (Sydney Health Literacy Lab) Health Literacy Editor,41 providing a quantitative assessment of text complexity by assessing factors such as sentence length, syllables, uncommon words and acronyms. A higher value represents a greater level of complexity. A readability score was also generated, representing the grade of literacy expected for someone to be able to read/understand specific text (correlating with school grades). Complexity and readability scores were calculated to determine the ease at which a guideline end-user could comprehend the content of each deprescribing recommendation.


Search results

2866 records were identified from the bibliographic database search, 200 from the Google search, and 2023 from the registry search (figure 1). Following citation searching, screening and duplicate removal, 80 guidelines containing one or more deprescribing recommendations were included.

Figure 1

Study selection - Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic review and Meta-Analysis 2020 flow diagram.

Guideline characteristics

The majority of the 80 included guidelines were developed in Europe (41%) and North America (40%), with a minority originating from Australia (6%), Asia (1%) and Africa (1%) (online supplemental table 1). A general upward trend in the number of guidelines containing deprescribing recommendations was observed over the examined timeframe (online supplemental figure 1). Most guidelines (90%) were treatment rather than deprescribing-focused (10%), and predominantly concerned diseases and/or medicines relating to the nervous system (38%), antineoplastic and immunomodulating agents (26%) and the alimentary tract and metabolism (13%). Less than half the guidelines (43%) contained a deprescribing recommendation for each medicine that had a prescribing recommendation. For example, a guideline on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease contained recommendations about initiating a range of medication classes including long-acting β2-agonists, long-acting muscarinic antagonists, inhaled corticosteroids and opioids for dyspnoea, yet only included a deprescribing recommendation for inhaled corticosteroids.42

Deprescribing recommendation characteristics

The 80 guidelines contained a total of 3569 evidence-based recommendations, of which 248 pertained to deprescribing (table 1). The median number of recommendations per guideline was 24.5 (range; 2–233) and the median number of evidence-based deprescribing recommendations per guideline was 2 (range; 0–14). On average, 7% (248/3569) of evidence-based recommendations identified in the guidelines pertained to deprescribing. An additional 68 deprescribing good practice statements were identified, resulting in a total of 316 deprescribing recommendations. Of these deprescribing recommendations, 9% (28/316) advised on when not to deprescribe (table 1).

Table 1

Deprescribing recommendation characteristics

The 248 evidence-based deprescribing recommendations were classified as either strong43 (17%), or conditional/weak43 (31%). Of the remainder, 113 (46%) did not specify the strength, and 17 (7%) self-described the recommendation as consensus-based. The certainty of the evidence informing the evidence-based deprescribing recommendations was variable, ranging from high (2%) to very low (17%). Over half (57%) did not specify the evidence certainty.

The average language complexity score (41%) and reading grade of deprescribing recommendations (17) were high (table 1), with only one recommendation falling below the recommended reading grade for the public (grade 8).41 Most readability scores were above 16, which are deemed ‘very difficult to read’.44

Conventional content analysis

Each of the 316 deprescribing recommendations were individually coded to seven categories, with subcategories. These categories were mapped to two overarching language concepts; (1) content and (2) form (figure 2).39 The content concept comprised categories relating to the recommendation’s subject matter, specifically whether a recommendation indicated for who, what, when/why or how to deprescribe. The form concept related to the presentation of the recommendation and the terminology used.

Figure 2

Language framework of deprescribing recommendations.


Most guidelines contained recommendations about who may be eligible for deprescribing (ie, identifying the population of interest), what to deprescribe (ie, the medicine/drug class) and when or why to deprescribe (table 2). When and why were grouped due to significant overlap between these concepts (eg, a recommendation suggesting medication cessation when a person was in disease remission encompassed both when and why to trial deprescribing). Although 91% of guidelines contained one or more recommendations about when or why to deprescribe, clarity was often lacking. For example, one recommendation stated ‘…should be minimised to less than 7.5 mg/day (prednisone equivalent) and, when possible, withdrawn’,45 alluding to when to deprescribe, yet not providing clear directives in terms of duration of use.

Table 2

Content characteristics of deprescribing recommendations identified through conventional content analysis

The how category was dichotomised into two subcategories to convey the difference in detail provided by recommendations. A brief process described recommendations that had some information about how to deprescribe (eg, ‘reduce the dose gradually’46), whereas detailed process recommendations provided additional guidance on dose reduction (eg, ‘Reduce to 75%, 50%, and 25% of the original dose on a biweekly basis before stopping’25) monitoring, counselling or the implementation of co-interventions to facilitate deprescribing. Although 68% of the 80 guidelines contained one or more recommendations about how to deprescribe, only 58% provided detailed guidance.

When comparing deprescribing-focused guidelines and treatment guidelines, deprescribing-focused guidelines consistently addressed each content category of Bloom and Lahey’s framework to a greater extent than their treatment counterparts (table 2).


The syntax/structure of the 316 deprescribing recommendations was commonly a single sentence (54%), multiple sentences (22%) or as a stem-sentence with accompanying bullet points (19%) (online supplemental table 2). Significant variability in the terminology used to indicate deprescribing was identified. In total, 12 deprescribing synonym subcategories were defined, with the terms discontinue, reduce, stop, withdraw and taper being the most prevalent. The term deprescribe was not used in any treatment guidelines and was only identified in three deprescribing-focused guidelines. Multiple terms were used within a single guideline, and even within individual recommendations. Similarly, an array of synonyms for the term recommend were used, with varying levels of obligation. The vocabulary of should, recommend and can or may appear most frequently, with the term suggest only used 8% of the time (online supplemental table 2).

Proportion of guidelines from the registries search containing a deprescribing recommendation

The guideline registry search identified 2023 guidelines, of which a 10% sample (n=202) were screened. Of these, 49 guidelines were potentially eligible for inclusion (ie, fulfilled all eligibility criteria except the requirement to have a deprescribing recommendation). After the second screening phase, 14 guidelines were included in the review as they contained one or more deprescribing recommendations. Based on these findings, 29% (n=14/49) of relevant guidelines from the past 5 years contained at least one deprescribing recommendation.


Integration of deprescribing recommendations into clinical practice guidelines has been proposed as a mechanism to minimise potentially inappropriate medicine use and reduce medicine-related harm.47 The large number of deprescribing recommendations identified in this review (n=316), as well as the upward trend in guidelines containing deprescribing recommendations over time, may reflect a growing awareness of the need to consider deprescribing. However, less than one-third of potentially eligible guidelines identified in the registries search contained a deprescribing recommendation and only 7% of evidence-based recommendations from the 80 included guidelines pertained to deprescribing. Additionally, less than half of these guidelines had a deprescribing recommendation for all medications with a prescribing recommendation. Such findings indicate a paucity of adequate deprescribing guidance and a need for developers to consider including deprescribing when defining the scope of guidelines and when formulating recommendations.

Internationally, guideline development handbooks and checklists stipulate that recommendations should specify core information, including the population of interest and a description of which options are appropriate in which situations.48–51 The conventional content analysis captured these factors via the who, what and when/why categories, finding that each were commonly addressed. In contrast, insufficient information on how to deprescribe was identified, despite this being recognised as a key enabler to achieving safe and effective deprescribing in practice.52 Lack of detailed guidance on how to deprescribe could be attributable to a range of factors, including the typical Population, Intervention, Comparison, Outcome format used to generate guideline questions,50 as well as limited high-certainty evidence to inform an optimal deprescribing approach.53 Given deprescribing studies often lack comprehensive information about interventions and relevant outcomes (eg, how long tapering took, when and what withdrawal symptoms occurred),54–57 guideline panels may be deterred from making specific how-focused recommendations. It is also possible that how is a concept highly relevant to deprescribing, but less pertinent for prescribing recommendations as medication initiation may be more straightforward or familiar to guideline end-users. Deprescribing-focused guidelines addressed the how category more consistently than their treatment counterparts. However, deprescribing guidelines currently exist for only a limited number of medication classes22–27 and expanding them to cover every medication class could lead to guideline fatigue and underuse.58 As such, routine integration of deprescribing recommendations into all clinical practice guidelines may enhance both the reach and adoption of deprescribing recommendations and support changing the culture of medicine so that deprescribing is seen as a regular part of care.47 Deprescribing recommendations can be developed using the same methods used for other recommendations.51 However, several challenges to including deprescribing recommendations in treatment guidelines have been suggested, including additional time, funds and expertise required for development,47 59 as well as a lack of incentives or requirements for developers to do so.36 48–50 It could also be argued that deprescribing is not within the scope of all treatment guidelines (as they may focus only on the early stages of treatment), and there are potential benefits of standalone deprescribing guidelines, such as having the opportunity to provide detailed and comprehensive deprescribing information which may not be a priority within the broader scope of a treatment guideline.

While more comprehensive deprescribing recommendations may facilitate the implementation of deprescribing in practice, there remains a need for recommendations to be simple and digestible. Guideline language is integral to implementability60 and recommendations should be uncomplicated, clear and persuasive.29 The deprescribing recommendations analysed in this review were often complex and contained imprecise language, (eg, ‘reduce the dose gradually’).46 Such guidance does not provide sufficient detail to enable the development of a specific deprescribing plan, or mitigate variation in clinicians’ practice, despite this being a key objective of guidelines.61 Although clinician expertise and discretion can be used to bridge the gap between recommendations and practice, in the absence of clear deprescribing recommendations, there is concern that recommendations will be misapplied, leading to unintended harm. For example, in the USA, the 2016 National Centres for Disease Control Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain recommended avoiding opioid doses above defined thresholds and suggested tapering and discontinuation of opioids if the benefits did not outweigh the harms.62 A lack of specific and actionable opioid deprescribing recommendations may have contributed to observed unintended consequences, including inappropriate tapering and termination of care.63 64 As such, it is imperative that deprescribing recommendations are thoughtfully worded to enable them to be applied as intended. Further, as language complexity is inversely proportional to recommendation adherence,65 66 strategies to reduce the high complexity and readability scores of recommendations may be required, even for healthcare professionals who are assumed to be able to understand information pitched at a higher reading grade than the general public.

Substantial variability in the terminology used to convey deprescribing and recommend was noted in this review, suggesting that there is no standardised approach for formatting deprescribing recommendations. Some variability in terminology is to be expected, with guideline panels likely using discipline-specific vocabulary (eg, step-down was frequently identified in rheumatology-related guidelines). However, terms with multiple meanings, such as withdraw can be unclear, referring to medication cessation but also adverse drug withdrawal reactions. The use of imprecise language runs counter to the Institute of Medicine’s charge for guidelines to use ‘unambiguous language and define terms precisely’.9 Similarly, the GRADE group advocates for guideline developers to make explicit connections between recommendation wording and the intended level of obligation to avoid subjectivity,67 promoting the term recommend or should for strong recommendations, and suggest or might for conditional recommendations.68 Despite GRADE being widely available and endorsed for use in guideline development, these terms were not used uniformly. Efforts are therefore required to explore contextual considerations across disciplines, countries and cultures that may influence preferred language, as well as understand how to incentivise developers to employ consistent approaches when crafting deprescribing recommendations, recognising that multiple terms may be required to convey nuances in meaning.

Strengths and limitations

To our knowledge, this is the largest review of deprescribing recommendations in clinical practice guidelines, exploring multiple disease states and drug classes. A rigorous search of the literature was conducted, supplemented by comprehensive citation searching. Screening, data extraction and content analysis were performed in duplicate by independent reviewers and each step was piloted to ensure process consistency. A limitation was only screening a 10% sample of the guideline registries, however, this was deemed practically necessary. The estimate of prevalence obtained from this sample only considered guidelines focused on long-term treatment, therefore the overall proportion of guidelines with deprescribing recommendations is likely lower. Additionally, as this was a scoping review, we have not conducted any statistical analyses to determine trends or associations between guideline characteristics. For the content analysis, only the deprescribing recommendations were extracted and analysed. It is possible that information about deprescribing was contained in other parts of the guideline, however, we focused on the recommendations alone. A further limitation was the exclusion of guidelines that were not published in the English language, potentially limiting the number and diversity of guidelines included for analysis. This decision was intentional as the review aimed to explore the language of recommendations, and translation may not appropriately convey the meaning of the original text. Similarly, the exclusion of guidelines pertaining to acute medical conditions may have resulted in the omission of potentially relevant recommendations about deprescribing short-term medications. However, we chose to focus this review on deprescribing of chronic medications, as this is the area where the term deprescribing is most often applied, and where healthcare professionals have called for additional guidance.19


While the majority of the 80 guidelines included in this scoping review presented one or more recommendations about for whom, what medicines and when or why to deprescribe, treatment guidelines did not routinely contain clear and actionable recommendations on how to deprescribe. Producing comprehensive deprescribing recommendations may be achieved by co-designing a template, reporting standard, or best practice guide, containing information on aspects of deprescribing recommendations that are essential, or preferred, to enable consistency of content (eg, details of how to taper) and format (terminology and presentation). Such guidance may help ensure that the intended meaning of deprescribing recommendations are adequately conveyed and that recommendations are actionable for end-users, to ultimately reduce inappropriate medicine use and improve patient care.

Data availability statement

All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as supplementary information.

Ethics statements

Patient consent for publication

Ethics approval

Not applicable.


We would like to thank Matthew Garrett, Wenhao (Byron) Zhu and Mandeep Chahal for their contributions to the screening of records identified in the guideline registries and Google searches.


Supplementary materials

  • Supplementary Data

    This web only file has been produced by the BMJ Publishing Group from an electronic file supplied by the author(s) and has not been edited for content.


  • AVL and IW are joint first authors.

  • X @AiliLangford, @OptimisingRxUse, @deprescribing, @FrankMoriarty

  • Contributors The corresponding author attests that all listed authors meet authorship criteria and that no others meeting the criteria have been omitted. AVL and ER are the guarantors for this article.Conception and design: AVL, IW, AMM, EK, SC, JPT, WT, BJF, DP, FM, DG, NJA, ER. Collection and assembly of data: AVL, IW, EK, SC, ER. Analysis and interpretation of the data: AVL, IW, EK, SC, JPT, ER. Drafting of the article: AVL, IW, ER. Critical revision of the article for important intellectual content: AVL, IW, AMM, EK, SC, JPT, WT, BJF, DP, FM, DG, NJA, ER. Final approval of the article: AVL, IW, AMM, EK, SC, JPT, WT, BJF, DP, FM, DG, NJA, ER.

  • Funding Dr Reeve is supported by a NHMRC Investigator Grant (1195460). Dr Langford is supported by a NHMRC Investigator Grant (2025289).

  • Competing interests ER receives royalties from UpToDate (Wolters Kluwer) for writing a chapter on deprescribing. WT has received research grants related to deprescribing from the US Deprescribing Network, Canadian Institutes for Health Research and Health Canada. AVL, ER and JPT are members of the executive committee of the Australian Deprescribing Network (ADeN).

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.