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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Do computerised clinical decision support systems for prescribing change practice? A systematic review of the literature (1990-2007)

Sallie-Anne Pearson1*, Annette Moxey2, Jane Robertson2, Isla Hains1, Margaret Williamson3, James Reeve3 and David Newby2

Author Affiliations

1 UNSW Cancer Research Centre, University of New South Wales and Prince of Wales Clinical School, Sydney, Australia

2 Discipline of Clinical Pharmacology, School of Medicine and Public Health, The University of Newcastle, Australia

3 National Prescribing Service Limited, Sydney, Australia

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BMC Health Services Research 2009, 9:154  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-9-154

Published: 28 August 2009

Abstract

Background

Computerised clinical decision support systems (CDSSs) are used widely to improve quality of care and patient outcomes. This systematic review evaluated the impact of CDSSs in targeting specific aspects of prescribing, namely initiating, monitoring and stopping therapy. We also examined the influence of clinical setting (institutional vs ambulatory care), system- or user-initiation of CDSS, multi-faceted vs stand alone CDSS interventions and clinical target on practice changes in line with the intent of the CDSS.

Methods

We searched Medline, Embase and PsychINFO for publications from 1990-2007 detailing CDSS prescribing interventions. Pairs of independent reviewers extracted the key features and prescribing outcomes of methodologically adequate studies (experiments and strong quasi-experiments).

Results

56 studies met our inclusion criteria, 38 addressing initiating, 23 monitoring and three stopping therapy. At the time of initiating therapy, CDSSs appear to be somewhat more effective after, rather than before, drug selection has occurred (7/12 versus 12/26 studies reporting statistically significant improvements in favour of CDSSs on = 50% of prescribing outcomes reported). CDSSs also appeared to be effective for monitoring therapy, particularly using laboratory test reminders (4/7 studies reporting significant improvements in favour of CDSSs on the majority of prescribing outcomes). None of the studies addressing stopping therapy demonstrated impacts in favour of CDSSs over comparators. The most consistently effective approaches used system-initiated advice to fine-tune existing therapy by making recommendations to improve patient safety, adjust the dose, duration or form of prescribed drugs or increase the laboratory testing rates for patients on long-term therapy. CDSSs appeared to perform better in institutional compared to ambulatory settings and when decision support was initiated automatically by the system as opposed to user initiation. CDSSs implemented with other strategies such as education were no more successful in improving prescribing than stand alone interventions. Cardiovascular disease was the most studied clinical target but few studies demonstrated significant improvements on the majority of prescribing outcomes.

Conclusion

Our understanding of CDSS impacts on specific aspects of the prescribing process remains relatively limited. Future implementation should build on effective approaches including the use of system-initiated advice to address safety issues and improve the monitoring of therapy.