To review the effectiveness of computer support for determining optimum drug dose.
Systematic review of comparative studies where computers gave advice to clinicians on the most appropriate drug dose. Search methods used were standard for the Cochrane Collaboration on Effective Professional Practice.
Comparative studies conducted worldwide and published between 1966 and 1996.
Main outcome measures
For qualitative review, relative percentage differences were calculated to compare effects of computer support in different settings. For quantitative data, effect sizes were calculated and combined in meta-analyses.
Eighteen studies met the inclusion criteria. The drugs studied were theophylline, warfarin, heparin, aminoglycosides, nitroprusside, lignocaine, oxytocin, fentanyl, and midazolam. The computer programs used individualised pharmacokinetic models to calculate the most appropriate dose. Meta-analysis of data from 671 patients showed higher blood concentrations of drug with computer support (effect size 0.69, 95% confidence interval 0.36 to 1.02) and reduced time to achieve therapeutic control (0.44, 0.17 to 0.71). The total dose of drug used was unchanged, and there were fewer unwanted effects of treatment. Five of six studies measuring outcomes of care showed benefit from computer assistance.
This review suggests that using computers to determine the correct dose of certain drugs in acute hospital settings is beneficial. Computers may give doctors the confidence to use higher doses when necessary, adjusting the drug dose more accurately to individual patients. Further research is necessary to evaluate the benefits in general use.
Key messages This systematic review of studies examining computer support for determining optimum drug dose showed benefits from computer use Computer support led to patients having increased blood concentrations of drug, reduced time to achieve therapeutic benefits, and fewer unwanted effects of treatment Computer support helps doctors to tailor drug doses more closely to the needs of individual patients All the studies took place in hospitals, and further research is needed to determine the risks and benefits of widespread use of computer support, particularly in general practice, where most prescribing takes place