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Choosing Wisely

On April 23, 2015 APA published a revision to the third item on its Choosing Wisely list to better reflect that there are instances in which dementia-associated symptoms (e.g., aggressive behavior due to paranoid delusions) pose an acute threat to the individual and others, and in these instances antipsychotic medications must be used before formal nonpharmacologic measures can be instituted. With the addition of the word "routinely", the Choosing Wisely statement acknowledges this reality.

APA's list includes the following five recommendations:

1. Don't prescribe antipsychotic medications to patients for any indication without appropriate initial evaluation and appropriate ongoing monitoring.

Metabolic, neuromuscular and cardiovascular side effects are common in patients receiving antipsychotic medications for any indication, so thorough initial evaluation to ensure that their use is clinically warranted, and ongoing monitoring to ensure that side effects are identified, are essential. "Appropriate initial evaluation" includes the following: (a) thorough assessment of possible underlying causes of target symptoms including general medical, psychiatric, environmental or psychosocial problems; (b) consideration of general medical conditions; and (c) assessment of family history of general medical conditions, especially of metabolic and cardiovascular disorders. “Appropriate ongoing monitoring” includes re-evaluation and documentation of dose, efficacy and adverse effects; and targeted assessment, including assessment of movement disorder or neurological symptoms; weight, waist circumference and/or BMI; blood pressure; heart rate; blood glucose level; and lipid profile at periodic intervals.

2. Don't routinely prescribe two or more antipsychotic medications concurrently.

Research shows that use of two or more antipsychotic medications occurs in 4 to 35% of outpatients and 30 to 50% of inpatients. However, evidence for the efficacy and safety of using multiple antipsychotic medications is limited, and risk for drug interactions, noncompliance and medication errors is increased. Generally, the use of two or more antipsychotic medications concurrently should be avoided except in cases of three failed trials of monotherapy, which included one failed trial of Clozapine where possible, or where a second antipsychotic medication is added with a plan to cross-taper to monotherapy.

3. Don't routinely use antipsychotics as first choice to treat behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia.

Behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia are defined as the non-cognitive symptoms and behaviors, including agitation or aggression, anxiety, irritability, depression, apathy and psychosis. Evidence shows that risks (e.g., cerebrovascular effects, mortality, parkinsonism or extrapyramidal signs, sedation, confusion and other cognitive disturbances, and increased body weight) tend to outweigh the potential benefits of antipsychotic medications in this population. Clinicians should generally limit the use of antipsychotic medications to cases where non-pharmacologic measures have failed and the patients' symptoms may create a threat to themselves or others. This item is also included in the American Geriatric Society’s list of recommendations for "Choosing Wisely."

4. Don't routinely prescribe antipsychotic medications as a first-line intervention for insomnia in adults.

There is inadequate evidence for the efficacy of antipsychotic medications to treat insomnia (primary or due to another psychiatric or medical condition), with the few studies that do exist showing mixed results.

5. Don’t routinely prescribe antipsychotic medications as a first-line intervention for children and adolescents for any diagnosis other than psychotic disorders.

There are both on and off label clinical indications for antipsychotic use in children and adolescents. FDA approved and/or evidence supported indications for antipsychotic medications in children and adolescents include psychotic disorders, bipolar disorder, tic disorders, and severe irritability in children with autism spectrum disorders; there is increasing evidence that antipsychotic medication may be useful for some disruptive behavior disorders. Children and adolescents should be prescribed antipsychotic medications only after having had a careful diagnostic assessment with attention to comorbid medical conditions and a review of the patient's prior treatments. Efforts should be made to combine both evidence-based pharmacological and psychosocial interventions and support. Limited availability of evidence based psychosocial interventions may make it difficult for every child to receive this ideal combination. Discussion of potential risks and benefits of medication treatment with the child and their guardian is critical. A short and long term treatment and monitoring plan to assess outcome, side effects, metabolic status and discontinuation, if appropriate, is also critical. The evidence base for use of atypical antipsychotics in preschool and younger children is limited and therefore further caution is warranted in prescribing in this population.

More than 80 national and state medical specialty societies, regional health collaboratives and consumer partners have joined the Choosing Wisely effort promoting conversations about appropriate care. Over the next year, more than 30 other specialty society partners will release Choosing Wisely lists.

More Information

How this list was created

The APA created a work group of members from the Council on Research and Quality Care* to identify, refine and ascertain the degree of consensus for five proposed items. Two rounds of surveys were used to arrive at the final list: the first round narrowed the list from more than 20 potential items by inquiring about the extent of overuse, the impact on patients' health, the associated costs of care and the level of evidence for each treatment or procedure; and the second gauged membership support for the top five and asked for suggested revisions and comments. The surveys targeted the Council on Research and Quality Care; the Council on Geriatric Psychiatry; the Council on Children, Adolescents, and Their Families; and the Assembly, which is APA's governing body consisting of representative psychiatrists from around the country. After the work group incorporated feedback from the two large surveys, APA's Board of Trustees Executive Committee reviewed and unanimously approved the final list.

*Now two separate councils: Council on Quality Care and Council on Research.

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