Factors associated with the decision to prescribe and administer antipsychotics for older people with delirium: A qualitative descriptive study

Emily J. Tomlinson, Helen Rawson, Elizabeth Manias, Nicole Nikki M. Phillips, Peteris Darzins, Alison M. Hutchinson

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Objectives To explore factors associated with decision-making of nurses and doctors in prescribing and administering as required antipsychotic medications to older people with delirium. Design Qualitative descriptive. Setting Two acute care hospital organisations in Melbourne, Australia. Participants Nurses and doctors were invited to participate. Semi-structured focus groups and individual interviews were conducted between May 2019 and March 2020. Interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim. Data were analysed using thematic analysis. Results Participants were 42 health professionals; n=25 nurses and n=17 doctors. Themes relating to decisions to use antipsychotic medication were: safety; a last resort; nursing workload; a dilemma to medicate; and anticipating worsening behaviours. Nurses and doctors described experiencing pressures when trying to manage hyperactive behaviours. Safety was a major concern leading to the decision to use antipsychotics. Antipsychotics were often used as chemical restraints to â € sedate' a patient with delirium because nurses â € can't do their job'. Results also indicated that nurses had influence over doctors' decisions despite nurses being unaware of this influence. Health professionals' descriptions are illustrated in a decision-making flowchart that identifies how nurses and doctors navigated decisions regarding prescription and administration of antipsychotic medications. Conclusions The decision to prescribe and administer antipsychotic medications for people with delirium is complex as nurses and doctors must navigate multiple factors before making the decision. Collaborative support and multidisciplinary teamwork are required by both nurses and doctors to optimally care for people with delirium. Decision-making support for nurses and doctors may also help to navigate the multiple factors that influence the decision to prescribe antipsychotics.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere047247
Number of pages13
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021


  • delirium & cognitive disorders
  • general medicine (see internal medicine)
  • geriatric medicine

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