Anticipatory prescribing of injectable medications for adults at the end of life in the community: A systematic literature review and narrative synthesis

Palliat Med. 2019 Feb;33(2):160-177. doi: 10.1177/0269216318815796. Epub 2018 Dec 4.


Background:: The anticipatory prescribing of injectable medications to provide end-of-life symptom relief is an established community practice in a number of countries. The evidence base to support this practice is unclear.

Aim:: To review the published evidence concerning anticipatory prescribing of injectable medications for adults at the end of life in the community.

Design:: Systematic review and narrative synthesis. Registered in PROSPERO: CRD42016052108, on 15 December 2016 (

Data sources:: Medline, CINAHL, Embase, PsycINFO, Web of Science, Cochrane Library, King’s Fund, Social Care Online, and Health Management Information Consortium databases were searched up to May 2017, alongside reference, citation, and journal hand searches. Included papers presented empirical research on the anticipatory prescribing of injectable medications for symptom control in adults at the end of life. Research quality was appraised using Gough’s ‘Weight of Evidence’ framework.

Results:: The search yielded 5099 papers, of which 34 were included in the synthesis. Healthcare professionals believe anticipatory prescribing provides reassurance, effective symptom control, and helps to prevent crisis hospital admissions. The attitudes of patients towards anticipatory prescribing remain unknown. It is a low-cost intervention, but there is inadequate evidence to draw conclusions about its impact on symptom control and comfort or crisis hospital admissions.

Conclusion:: Current anticipatory prescribing practice and policy is based on an inadequate evidence base. The views and experiences of patients and their family carers towards anticipatory prescribing need urgent investigation. Further research is needed to investigate the impact of anticipatory prescribing on patients’ symptoms and comfort, patient safety, and hospital admissions.

Keywords: Anticipatory prescribing; death; palliative care; palliative medicine; palliative medicine kit; review; systematic review; terminal care.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cohort Studies
  • Drug Prescriptions / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Injections / statistics & numerical data*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Palliative Care / methods*
  • Palliative Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Prescription Drugs / administration & dosage*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Terminal Care / methods*
  • Terminal Care / statistics & numerical data*


  • Prescription Drugs