Background: An automated dose dispensing (ADD) service has been implemented in primary healthcare in some European countries. In this service, regularly used medicines are machine-packed into unit-dose bags for each time of administration. The aim of this study is to review the evidence for ADD's influence on the appropriateness of medication use, medication safety, and costs in primary healthcare.
Methods: A literature search was performed in April 2012 in the most relevant databases (n = 10), including the Medline, Embase, and Cochrane Library. The reference lists of the studies selected were manually searched. A study was included in the review if the study was conducted in primary healthcare or nursing home settings and medicines were dispensed in unit-dose bags.
Results: Out of 328 abstracts, seven studies met the inclusion and reporting quality criteria, but none applied a randomized controlled study design. Of the four controlled studies, one was a national register-based study. It showed that the patient group in the ADD scheme more often used three or more psychotropic drugs and anticholinergics than patients using the standard dispensing procedure, while women in the ADD group used less long-acting benzodiazepines and both genders had fewer drug-drug interactions. In another, regional controlled study, the ADD group consisted of patients with higher risk of inappropriate drug use, according to all indicators applied. The third controlled study indicated that ADD user drug treatments were more likely to remain unchanged than in patients using a standard dispensing procedure. A controlled study from Norway showed that ADD reduced discrepancies in the documentation of patient medication records. Costs were not investigated in any of the studies.
Conclusions: A very limited number of controlled studies have explored ADD in primary healthcare. Consequently, the evidence for ADD's influence on appropriateness and safety of medication use is limited and lacking in information on costs. The findings of this review suggest that patients using the ADD have more inappropriate drugs in their regimens, and that ADD may improve medication safety in terms of reducing the discrepancies in medication records. Further evidence is needed to draw sound conclusions on ADD's outcomes.