Doctors May Be Ignoring Electronic Health Record Alerts

When you agree to undergo a medical test of any kind, it is with the understanding that the results will be reviewed and acted upon by your medical provider. Unfortunately, a recent study in the publication JAMA Internal Medicine showed that electronic health records are causing doctors to ignore abnormal test results because the systems send out so many alerts. The study revealed that doctors receive, on average, 63 electronic health record-based alerts every day. One-third of the doctors surveyed acknowledged that they had missed some of these alerts because there were so many.

The study involved 105 questions submitted to 2,600 primary care physicians. Of those surveyed, 87 percent said that the quantity of EHR alerts was “over the top.” Another 70 percent indicated that the number of alerts they were getting was more than they could handle. More than half responded that the EHR system made it possible for them to miss results. With many hospitals switching to electronic records or considering the switch, it is concerning that a large percentage of doctors find the systems so difficult to use.

The study generated several comments from industry professionals. One suggestion was that patients should not consider the absence of a response from their doctors to be a positive response. If you have taken a test, it is important to discuss the results, good or bad, with your physician. Another suggestion was that EHR record systems may be designed more for billing companies than for doctors. There should be a simple way to distinguish truly important health data from mundane issues without treating everything as an alert.

When test results are ignored or lost, the patient is the one who loses. The results could be deadly, as dangerous drug interactions, allergies or time-sensitive treatments could be missed. Whatever system doctors use, the safety of patient must be the top priority.

Source: CBS News, “Too many electronic health record alerts may be leading doctors to skip them,” by Michelle Castillo, 5 March 2013