Medication-related interventions to improve medication safety and patient outcomes on transition from adult intensive care settings: a systematic review and meta-analysis

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BACKGROUND: Patients recovering from an episode in an intensive care unit (ICU) frequently experience medication errors on transition to the hospital ward. Structured handover recommendations often underestimate the challenges and complexity of ICU patient transitions. For adult ICU patients transitioning to a hospital ward, it is currently unclear what interventions reduce the risks of medication errors.The aims were to examine the impact of medication-related interventions on medication and patient outcomes on transition from adult ICU settings and identify barriers and facilitators to implementation.

METHODS: The systematic review protocol was preregistered on PROSPERO. Six electronic databases were searched until October 2020 for controlled and uncontrolled study designs that reported medication-related (ie, de-prescribing; medication errors) or patient-related outcomes (ie, mortality; length of stay). Risk of bias (RoB) assessment used V.2.0 and ROBINS-I Cochrane tools. Where feasible, random-effects meta-analysis was used for pooling the OR across studies. The quality of evidence was assessed by Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development and Evaluations.

RESULTS: Seventeen studies were eligible, 15 (88%) were uncontrolled before-after studies. The intervention components included education of staff (n=8 studies), medication review (n=7), guidelines (n=6), electronic transfer/handover tool or letter (n=4) and medicines reconciliation (n=4). Overall, pooled analysis of all interventions reduced risk of inappropriate medication continuation at ICU discharge (OR=0.45 (95% CI 0.31 to 0.63), I2=55%, n=9) and hospital discharge (OR=0.39 (95% CI 0.2 to 0.76), I2=75%, n=9). Multicomponent interventions, based on education of staff and guidelines, demonstrated no significant difference in inappropriate medication continuation at the ICU discharge point (OR 0.5 (95% CI 0.22 to 1.11), I2=62%, n=4), but were very effective in increasing de-prescribing outcomes on hospital discharge (OR 0.26 (95% CI 0.13 to 0.55), I2=67%, n=6)). Facilitators to intervention delivery included ICU clinical pharmacist availability and participation in multiprofessional ward rounds, while barriers included increased workload associated with the discharge intervention process.

CONCLUSIONS: Multicomponent interventions based on education of staff and guidelines were effective at achieving almost four times more de-prescribing of inappropriate medication by the time of patient hospital discharge. Based on the findings, practice and policy recommendations are made and guidance is provided on the need for, and design of theory informed interventions in this area, including the requirement for process and economic evaluations.

Original languageEnglish
Article number013760
Pages (from-to)609-622
Number of pages14
JournalBMJ Quality and Safety
Issue number8
Early online date17 Jan 2022
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2022


  • Adult
  • Critical Care
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Medication Errors/prevention & control
  • Patient Discharge
  • Pharmacists


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