Individual factors increasing complexity of drug treatment-a narrative review

Eur J Clin Pharmacol. 2020 Jun;76(6):745-754. doi: 10.1007/s00228-019-02818-7. Epub 2020 Apr 1.


Purpose: Complexity of drug treatment is known to be a risk factor for administration errors and nonadherence promoting higher healthcare costs, hospital admissions and increased mortality. Number of drugs and dose frequency are parameters often used to assess complexity related to the medication regimen. However, factors resulting from complex processes of care or arising from patient characteristics are only sporadically analyzed. Hence, the objective of this review is to give a comprehensive overview of relevant, patient-centered factors influencing complexity of drug treatment.

Methods: A purposeful literature search was performed in MEDLINE to identify potential complexity factors relating to the prescribed drug (i.e. dosage forms or other product characteristics), the specific medication regimen (i.e. dosage schemes or additional instructions), specific patient characteristics and process characteristics. Factors were included if they were associated to administration errors, nonadherence and related adverse drug events detected in community dwelling adult patients.

Results: Ninety-one influencing factors were identified: fourteen in "dosage forms", five in "product characteristics", twelve in "dosage schemes", nine in "additional instructions", thirty-one in "patient characteristics" and twenty in "process characteristics".

Conclusions: Although the findings are limited by the non-systematic search process and the heterogeneous results, the search shows the influence of many factors on the complexity of drug treatment. However, to evaluate their relevance for individual patients, prospective studies are necessary.

Keywords: Administration error; Complexity factor; Drug treatment; Narrative review; Nonadherence; Patient-centered.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Drug Therapy
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions
  • Humans
  • Medication Adherence
  • Medication Errors / prevention & control*
  • Polypharmacy*
  • Precision Medicine / trends*