OBJECTIVE: To determine whether a computerised decision support system for initiation and control of oral anticoagulant treatment improves quality of anticoagulant control achieved by trainee doctors. DESIGN: Randomised controlled trial. SETTING: District general hospital in North London. SUBJECTS: 148 inpatients requiring start of warfarin treatment. INTERVENTIONS: Management by trainee doctors (to achieve therapeutic range of international normalised ratio of 2 to 3) with indirect assistance from computerised decision support system (intervention group) or without such assistance (control group). MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Median time to therapeutic range, stable dose, and first pseudoevent (excessive international normalised ratio after therapeutic range has been reached) and person time spent in the therapeutic range. RESULTS: 72 patients were randomised to the intervention group and 76 to control group. Median time to reach international normalised ratio of > or = 2 was not significantly different in the two groups (3 days). Median time to achieve a stable dose was significantly lower in intervention group than in controls (7 days v 9 days, P = 0.01) without excessive overtreatment or undertreatment with anticoagulant. Patients in intervention group spent greater proportion of time in therapeutic range, both as inpatients (59% v 52%) and outpatients (64% v 51%). CONCLUSION: The computerised decision support system was safe and effective and improved the quality of initiation and control of warfarin treatment by trainee doctors.