Multimorbidity: clinical assessment and management

National Institute for Health and Care Excellence


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General principles

  • Be aware that multimorbidity refers to the presence of two or more long-term health conditions, which can include:
    • defined physical and mental health conditions such as diabetes or schizophrenia
    • ongoing conditions such as learning disability
    • symptom complexes such as frailty or chronic pain
    • sensory impairment such as sight or hearing loss
    • alcohol and substance misuse
  • Be aware that the management of risk factors for future disease can be a major treatment burden for people with multimorbidity and should be carefully considered when optimising care
  • Be aware that the evidence for recommendations in NICE guidance on single health conditions is regularly drawn from people without multimorbidity and taking fewer prescribed regular medicines
  • Think carefully about the risks and benefits, for people with multimorbidity, of individual treatments recommended in guidance for single health conditions. Discuss this with the patient alongside their preferences for care and treatment

Taking account of multimorbidity in tailoring the approach to care

  • Consider an approach to care that takes account of multimorbidity if the person requests it or if any of the following apply:
    • they find it difficult to manage their treatments or day-to-day activities
    • they receive care and support from multiple services and need additional services
    • they have both long-term physical and mental health conditions
    • they have frailty or falls
    • they frequently seek unplanned or emergency care
    • they are prescribed multiple regular medicines

How to identify people who may benefit from an approach to care that takes account of multimorbidity

  • Identify adults who may benefit from an approach to care that takes account of multimorbidity:
    • opportunistically during routine care
    • proactively using electronic health records
  • Use the criteria above to guide this
  • Consider using a validated tool such as eFI, PEONY or QAdmissions, if available in primary care electronic health records, to identify adults with multimorbidity who are at risk of adverse events such as unplanned hospital admission or admission to care homes
  • Consider using primary care electronic health records to identify markers of increased treatment burden such as number of regular medicines a person is prescribed
  • Use an approach to care that takes account of multimorbidity for adults of any age who are prescribed 15 or more regular medicines, because they are likely to be at higher risk of adverse events and drug interactions
  • Consider an approach to care that takes account of multimorbidity for adults of any age who:
    • are prescribed 10 to 14 regular medicines
    • are prescribed fewer than 10 regular medicines but are at particular risk of adverse events

How to assess frailty

  • Consider assessing frailty in people with multimorbidity
  • Be cautious about assessing frailty in a person who is acutely unwell
  • Do not use a physical performance tool to assess frailty in a person who is acutely unwell

Primary care and community care settings

  • When assessing frailty in primary and community care settings, consider using one of the following:
    • an informal assessment of gait speed (for example, time taken to answer the door, time taken to walk from the waiting room)
    • self-reported health status (that is, 'how would you rate your health status on a scale from 0 to 10?', with scores of 6 or less indicating frailty)
    • a formal assessment of gait speed, with more than 5 seconds to walk 4 metres indicating frailty
    • the PRISMA-7 questionnaire, with scores of 3 and above indicating frailty

Principles of an approach to care that takes account of multimorbidity

  • When offering an approach to care that takes account of multimorbidity, focus on:
    • how the person's health conditions and their treatments interact and how this affects quality of life
    • the person's individual needs, preferences for treatments, health priorities, lifestyle and goals
    • the benefits and risks of following recommendations from guidance on single health conditions
    • improving quality of life by reducing treatment burden, adverse events, and unplanned care
    • improving coordination of care across services
  • Follow these steps when delivering an approach to care that takes account of multimorbidity:
    • discuss the purpose of an approach to care that takes account of multimorbidity
    • establish disease and treatment burden
    • establish patient goals, values and priorities
    • review medicines and other treatments taking into account evidence of likely benefits and harms for the individual patient and outcomes important to the person
    • agree an individualised management plan with the person including:
      • goals and plans for future care (including advance care planning)
      • who is responsible for coordination of care
      • how the individualised management plan and the responsibility for coordination of care is communicated to all professionals and services involved
      • timing of follow-up and how to access urgent care

Delivering an approach to care that takes account of multimorbidity

  • Follow the recommendations in the NICE guideline on patient experience in adult NHS services, which provides guidance on knowing the patient as an individual, tailoring healthcare services for each patient, continuity of care and relationships, and enabling patients to actively participate in their care

Discussing the purpose of an approach to care that takes account of multimorbidity

  • Discuss with the person the purpose of the approach to care, that is, to improve quality of life. This might include reducing treatment burden and optimising care and support by identifying:
    • ways of maximising benefit from existing treatments
    • treatments that could be stopped because of limited benefit
    • treatments and follow-up arrangements with a high burden
    • medicines with a higher risk of adverse events (for example, falls, gastrointestinal bleeding, acute kidney injury)
    • non-pharmacological treatments as possible alternatives to some medicines
    • alternative arrangements for follow-up to coordinate or optimise the number of appointments

Establishing disease and treatment burden

  • Establish disease burden by talking to people about how their health problems affect their day-to-day life. Include a discussion of:
    • mental health
    • how disease burden affects their wellbeing
    • how their health problems interact and how this affects quality of life
  • Establish treatment burden by talking to people about how treatments for their health problems affect their day-to-day life. Include in the discussion:
    • the number and type of healthcare appointments a person has and where these take place
    • the number and type of medicines a person is taking and how often
    • any harms from medicines
    • non-pharmacological treatments such as diets, exercise programmes and psychological treatments
    • any effects of treatment on their mental health or wellbeing
  • Be alert to the possibility of:
    • depression and anxiety (consider identifying, assessing and managing these conditions in line with the NICE guideline on common mental health problems)
    • chronic pain and the need to assess this and the adequacy of pain management

Establishing patient goals, values and priorities

  • Clarify with the patient whether and how they would like their partner, family members and/or carers to be involved in key decisions about the management of their conditions. Review this regularly. If the patient agrees, share information with their partner, family members and/or carers
  • Encourage people with multimorbidity to clarify what is important to them, including their personal goals, values and priorities. These may include:
    • maintaining their independence
    • undertaking paid or voluntary work, taking part in social activities and playing an active part in family life
    • preventing specific adverse outcomes (for example, stroke)
    • reducing harms from medicines
    • reducing treatment burden
    • lengthening life
  • Explore the person's attitudes to their treatments and the potential benefits and harms of those treatments. Follow the recommendations on patient involvement in decisions about medicines and understanding the patient's knowledge, beliefs and concerns about medicines in the NICE guideline on medicines adherence

Reviewing medicines and other treatments

  • When reviewing medicines and other treatments, use the database of treatment effects to find information on:
    • the effectiveness of treatments
    • the duration of treatment trials
    • the populations included in treatment trials
  • Consider using a screening tool (for example, the STOPP/START tool in older people) to identify medicine-related safety concerns and medicines the person might benefit from but is not currently taking
  • When optimising treatment, think about any medicines or non-pharmacological treatments that might be started as well as those that might be stopped
  • Ask the person if treatments intended to relieve symptoms are providing benefits or causing harms. If the person is unsure of benefit or is experiencing harms from a treatment:
    • discuss reducing or stopping the treatment
    • plan a review to monitor effects of any changes made and decide whether any further changes to treatments are needed (including restarting a treatment)
  • Take into account the possibility of lower overall benefit of continuing treatments that aim to offer prognostic benefit, particularly in people with limited life expectancy or frailty
  • Discuss with people who have multimorbidity and limited life expectancy or frailty whether they wish to continue treatments recommended in guidance on single health conditions which may offer them limited overall benefit
  • Discuss any changes to treatments that aim to offer prognostic benefit with the person, taking into account:
    • their views on the likely benefits and harms from individual treatments
    • what is important to them in terms of personal goals, values and priorities
  • Tell a person who has been taking bisphosphonate for osteoporosis for at least 3 years that there is no consistent evidence of:
    • further benefit from continuing bisphosphonate for another 3 years
    • harms from stopping bisphosphonate after 3 years of treatment
  • Discuss stopping bisphosphonate after 3 years and include patient choice, fracture risk and life expectancy in the discussion

Agreeing the individualised management plan

  • After a discussion of disease and treatment burden and the person's, personal goals, values and priorities, develop and agree an individualised management plan with the person. Agree what will be recorded and what actions will be taken. These could include:
    • starting, stopping or changing medicines and non-pharmacological treatments
    • prioritising healthcare appointments
    • anticipating possible changes to health and wellbeing
    • assigning responsibility for coordination of care and ensuring this is communicated to other healthcare professionals and services
    • other areas the person considers important to them
    • arranging a follow-up and review of decisions made
  • Share copies of the management plan in an accessible format with the person and (with the person's permission) other people involved in care (including healthcare professionals, a partner, family members and/or carers)

Terms used in this guideline

Multimorbidity

  • Multimorbidity refers to the presence of two or more long-term health conditions, which can include:
    • defined physical and mental health conditions such as diabetes or schizophrenia
    • ongoing conditions such as learning disability
    • symptom complexes such as frailty or chronic pain
    • sensory impairment such as sight or hearing loss
    • alcohol and substance misuse
  • The management of risk factors for future disease can be a major treatment burden for people with multimorbidity and should be carefully considered when optimising care
  • This guideline covers the optimisation of care for:
    • adults with two or more long-term physical health conditions
    • adults with one or more mental health condition and at least one physical health condition

An approach to care that takes account of multimorbidity

  • An approach to care that takes account of multimorbidity involves personalised assessment and the development of an individualised management plan. The aim is to improve quality of life by reducing treatment burden, adverse events, and unplanned or uncoordinated care. The approach takes account of a person's individual needs, preferences for treatments, health priorities and lifestyle. It aims to improve coordination of care across services, particularly if this has become fragmented

Individualised management plan

  • An individualised management plan is a management plan covering clinical aspects of a person's care, such as the medicines they are taking and the services they are attending. It includes information about which areas of care are most important to the person and whether treatments have been stopped to reduce treatment burden

Medicines

  • Medicines includes topical treatments such as ointments, inhalers, creams and drops, as well as medicines taken by mouth or injection

Comprehensive assessment of older people with complex needs

  • A comprehensive geriatric assessment is an interdisciplinary diagnostic process to determine the medical, psychological and functional capability of someone who is frail and old. The aim is to develop a coordinated, integrated plan for treatment and long-term support

References

full guidelines available from...
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, Level 1A, City Tower, Piccadilly Plaza, Manchester, M1 4BT
www.nice.org.uk/guidance/NG56

National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Multimorbidity: clinical assessment and management. September 2016.


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