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Computer support for determining drug dose: systematic review and meta-analysis

BMJ 1999; 318 doi: (Published 10 April 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;318:984

This article has a correction. Please see:

  1. Robert Walton (robert.walton{at}, research fellowa,
  2. Susan Dovey, visiting research fellowa,
  3. Emma Harvey, research fellowb,
  4. Nick Freemantle, senior research fellow..c
  1. aICRF General Practice Research Group, University of Oxford, Department of Public Health and Primary Care, Institute of Health Sciences, Oxford OX3 7LF
  2. bDepartment of Health Sciences and Clinical Evaluation, Alcuin College, York YO1 5DD
  3. cCentre for Health Economics, University of York, York YO1 5DD
  1. Correspondence to: Dr Walton
  • Accepted 9 November 1998


Objective: To review the effectiveness of computer support for determining optimum drug dose.

Design: 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.

Subjects: 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.

Results: 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.

Conclusions: 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.


  • Funding NHS research and development programme evaluating methods to promote the implementation of research findings. RW is supported by a Royal College of General Practitioners/BUPA training fellowship. SD was supported by the New Zealand Health Research Council.

  • Conflict of interest None reported.

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