Inappropriate prescribing (IP) in older patients is highly prevalent and is associated with an increased risk of adverse drug events (ADEs), morbidity, mortality and healthcare utilisation. Consequently, IP is a major safety concern and with changing population demographics, it is likely to become even more prevalent in the future. IP can be detected using explicit or implicit prescribing indicators. Theoretically, the routine clinical application of these IP criteria could represent an inexpensive and time efficient method to optimise prescribing practice. However, IP criteria must be sensitive, specific, have good inter-rater reliability and incorporate those medications most commonly associated with ADEs in older people. To be clinically relevant, use of prescribing appropriateness tools must translate into positive patient outcomes, such as reduced rates of ADEs. To accurately measure these outcomes, a reliable method of assessing the relationship between the administration of a drug and an adverse clinical event is required. The Naranjo criteria are the most widely used tool for assessing ADE causality, however, they are often difficult to interpret in the context of older patients. ADE causality criteria that allow for the multiple co-morbidities and prescribed medications in older people are required. Ultimately, the current high prevalence of IP and ADEs is unacceptable. IP screening criteria need to be tested as an intervention to assess their impact on the incidence of ADEs in vulnerable older patients. There is a role for IP screening tools in everyday clinical practice. These should enhance, not replace good clinical judgement, which in turn should be based on sound pharmacogeriatric training.