Off-label prescribing in palliative care – a cross-sectional national survey of Palliative Medicine doctors

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To, Timothy H M
Agar, Meera Ruth
Shelby-James, Tania Maree
Abernethy, Amy Pickar
Doogue, Matthew
Rowett, Debra Sharon
Ko, Danielle N
Currow, David Christopher
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SAGE Publications
Background: Regulatory bodies including the European Medicines Agency register medications (formulation, route of administration) for specific clinical indications. Once registered, prescription is at clinicians’ discretion. Off-label use is beyond the registered use. While off-label prescribing may, at times, be appropriate, efficacy and toxicity data are often lacking. Aim: The aim of this study was to document off-label use policies (including disclosure and consent) in Australian palliative care units and current practices by palliative care clinicians. Design: A national, cross-sectional survey was conducted online following an invitation letter. The survey asked clinicians their most frequent off-label medication/indication dyads and unit policies. Dyads were classified into unregistered, off-label and on-label, and for the latter, whether medications were nationally subsidised. Setting/participants: All Australian palliative medicine Fellows and advanced trainees. Results: Overall, 105 clinicians responded (53% response rate). The majority did not have policies on off-label medications, and documented consent rarely. In all, 236 medication/indication dyads for 36 medications were noted: 45 dyads (19%) were for two unregistered medications, 118 dyads (50%) were for 26 off-label medications and 73 dyads (31%) were for 12 on-label medications. Conclusions: Off-label prescribing with its clinical, legal and ethical implications is common yet poorly recognised by clinicians. A distinction needs to be made between where quality evidence exists but registration has not been updated by the pharmaceutical sponsor and the evidence has not been generated. Further research is required to quantify any iatrogenic harm from off-label prescribing in palliative care.
Palliative care
To, T.H.M., Agar, M.R., Shelby-James, T.M., Abernethy, A.P., Doogue, M., Rowett, D., Ko, D. and Currow, D.C., 2012. Off-label prescribing in palliative care – a cross-sectional national survey of Palliative Medicine doctors. Palliative Medicine, 27(4), 320-328.