26 Aug Electronic Health Record Alerts Reduced Urinary Tract Infections
MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Craig A Umscheid, MD, MSCE, FACP
Assistant Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology
Director, Center for Evidence-based Practice
Medical Director, Clinical Decision Support
Chair, Department of Medicine Quality Committee
Senior Associate Director, ECRI-Penn AHRQ Evidence-based Practice Center
University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104
Medical Research: What are the main findings of the study?
Dr. Umscheid: We found that targeted automated alerts in electronic health records significantly reduce urinary tract infections in hospital patients with urinary catheters. In addition, when the design of the alert was simplified, the rate of improvement dramatically increased.
Approximately 75 percent of urinary tract infections acquired in the hospital are associated with a urinary catheter, which is a tube inserted into the bladder through the urethra to drain urine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15 to 25 percent of hospitalized patients receive urinary catheters during their hospital stay. As many as 70 percent of urinary tract infections in these patients may be preventable using infection control measures such as removing no longer needed catheters resulting in up to 380,000 fewer infections and 9,000 fewer deaths each year.
Our study has two crucial, applicable findings. First, electronic alerts do result in fewer catheter-associated urinary tract infections. Second, the design of the alerts is very important. By making the alert quicker and easier to use, we saw a dramatic increase in the number of catheters removed in patients who no longer needed them. Fewer catheters means fewer infections, fewer days in the hospital, and even, fewer deaths. Not to mention the dollars saved by the health system in general.
In the first phase of the study, two percent of urinary catheters were removed after an initial “off-the-shelf” electronic alert was triggered (the stock alert was part of the standard software package for the electronic health record). Hoping to improve on this result in a second phase of the study, we developed and used a simplified alert based on national guidelines for removing urinary catheters that we previously published with the CDC. Following introduction of the simplified alert, the proportion of catheter removals increased more than seven-fold to 15 percent.
The study also found that catheter associated urinary tract infections decreased from an initial rate of .84 per 1,000 patient days to .70 per 1,000 patient-days following implementation of the first alert and .50 per 1,000 patient days following implementation of the simplified alert. Among other improvements, the simplified alert required two mouse clicks to submit a remove-urinary-catheter order compared to seven mouse clicks required by the original alert.
The study was conducted among 222,475 inpatient admissions in the three hospitals of the University of Pennsylvania Health System between March 2009 and May 2012. In patients’ electronic health records, physicians were prompted to specify the reason (among ten options) for inserting a urinary catheter. On the basis of the reason selected, they were subsequently alerted to reassess the need for the catheter if it had not been removed within the recommended time period based on the reason chosen.
Medical Research: Were any of the findings unexpected?
Dr. Umscheid: Several studies have already shown that reminder systems to limit the use and duration of urinary catheters can lower catheter infection rates. However, the majority of these have used non-computerized reminders, such as written reminders or stickers. Our current study is one of the largest to examine the impact of electronically generated alerts. We were surprised by the dramatic difference in effectiveness between the two alerts. The findings suggest the critical importance of alert design.
Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?
Dr. Umscheid: As more hospitals adopt electronic health records, studies such as ours can help point the way toward improved patient care. Thoughtful development and deployment of technology solutions really can make a difference. In this study, we learned that no two alerts are alike, and that changes to an alert’s usability can dramatically increase its impact.
Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?
Dr. Umscheid: Future research should focus on methods to more easily integrate usability testing into the design of electronic alerts, and explore features and environments that increase the effectiveness of clinical decision support interventions.