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1.  Follow-up Actions on Electronic Referral Communicationin a Multispecialty Outpatient Setting 
ABSTRACT
OBJECTIVES
Electronic health records (EHR) enable transmission and tracking of referrals between primary-care practitioners (PCPs) and subspecialists. We used an EHR to examine follow-up actions on electronic referral communication in a large multispecialty VA facility.
METHODS
We retrieved outpatient referrals to five subspecialties between October 2006 and December 2007, and queried the EHR to determine their status: completed, discontinued (returned to PCP), or unresolved (no action taken by subspecialist). All unresolved referrals, and random samples of discontinued and completed referrals were reviewed to determine whether subspecialists took follow-up actions (i.e., schedule appointments anytime in the future) within 30 days of referral-receipt. For referrals without timely follow-up, we determined whether inaction was supported by any predetermined justifiable reasons or associated with certain referral characteristics. We also reviewed if PCPs took the required action on returned information.
RESULTS
Of 61,931 referrals, 22,535 were discontinued (36.4%), and 474 were unresolved (0.8%). We selected 412 discontinued referrals randomly for review. Of these, 52% lacked follow-up actions within 30 days. Appropriate justifications for inaction were documented in 69.8% (150/215) of those without action and included lack of prerequisite testing by the PCP and subspecialist opinion that no intervention was required despite referral. We estimated that at 30 days, 6.3% of all referrals were associated with an unexplained lack of follow-up actions by subspecialists. Conversely, 7.4% of discontinued referrals returned to PCPs were associated with an unexplained lack of follow-up.
CONCLUSIONS
Although the EHR facilitates transmission of valuable information at the PCP-subspecialist interface, unexplained communication breakdowns in the referral process persist in a subset of cases.
doi:10.1007/s11606-010-1501-z
PMCID: PMC3024094  PMID: 20848235
referrals; primary care; sub-specialty care; electronic health records; patient safety; health information technology; communication; diagnostic errors; patient follow-up
2.  Characteristics and Predictors of Missed Opportunities in Lung Cancer Diagnosis: An Electronic Health Record–Based Study 
Journal of Clinical Oncology  2010;28(20):3307-3315.
Purpose
Understanding delays in cancer diagnosis requires detailed information about timely recognition and follow-up of signs and symptoms. This information has been difficult to ascertain from paper-based records. We used an integrated electronic health record (EHR) to identify characteristics and predictors of missed opportunities for earlier diagnosis of lung cancer.
Methods
Using a retrospective cohort design, we evaluated 587 patients of primary lung cancer at two tertiary care facilities. Two physicians independently reviewed each case, and disagreements were resolved by consensus. Type I missed opportunities were defined as failure to recognize predefined clinical clues (ie, no documented follow-up) within 7 days. Type II missed opportunities were defined as failure to complete a requested follow-up action within 30 days.
Results
Reviewers identified missed opportunities in 222 (37.8%) of 587 patients. Median time to diagnosis in cases with and without missed opportunities was 132 days and 19 days, respectively (P < .001). Abnormal chest x-ray was the clue most frequently associated with type I missed opportunities (62%). Follow-up on abnormal chest x-ray (odds ratio [OR], 2.07; 95% CI, 1.04 to 4.13) and completion of first needle biopsy (OR, 3.02; 95% CI, 1.76 to 5.18) were associated with type II missed opportunities. Patient adherence contributed to 44% of patients with missed opportunities.
Conclusion
Preventable delays in lung cancer diagnosis arose mostly from failure to recognize documented abnormal imaging results and failure to complete key diagnostic procedures in a timely manner. Potential solutions include EHR-based strategies to improve recognition of abnormal imaging and track patients with suspected cancers.
doi:10.1200/JCO.2009.25.6636
PMCID: PMC2903328  PMID: 20530272
3.  USING A MULTIFACETED APPROACH TO IMPROVE THE FOLLOW-UP OF POSITIVE FECAL OCCULT BLOOD TEST RESULTS 
Background
Inadequate follow-up of abnormal fecal occult blood test (FOBT) results occurs in several types of practice settings. Our institution implemented multifaceted quality improvement (QI) activities in 2004–2005 to improve follow-up of FOBT positive results. Activities addressed pre-colonoscopy referral processes and system-level factors such as electronic communication and provider education and feedback. We evaluated their effects on timeliness and appropriateness of positive FOBT follow-up and identified factors that affect colonoscopy performance.
Methods
Retrospective electronic medical record (EMR) review was used to determine outcomes pre- and post-QI activities in a multi-specialty ambulatory clinic of a tertiary care Veterans Affairs facility and its affiliated satellite clinics. From 1869 FOBT positive cases, 800 were randomly selected from time periods before and after QI activities. Two reviewers used a pretested standardized data collection form to determine whether colonoscopy was appropriate or indicated based on pre-determined criteria and if so, the timeliness of colonoscopy referral and performance pre- and post-QI activities.
Results
In cases where a colonoscopy was indicated, the proportion of patients who received a timely colonoscopy referral and performance were significantly higher post implementation (60.5% vs. 31.7%, p<0.0001 and 11.4% vs. 3.4%, p =0.0005 respectively). A significant decrease also resulted in median times to referral and performance (6 vs. 19 days p<0.0001 and 96.5 vs. 190 days p<0.0001 respectively) and in the proportion of positive FOBT test results that had received no follow-up by the time of chart review (24.3%vs. 35.9%; p=0.0045). Significant predictors of absence of the performance of an indicated colonoscopy included performance of a non-colonoscopy procedure such as barium enema or flexible sigmoidoscopy (OR=16.9; 95% CI 1.9–145.1), patient non-adherence (OR=33.9; 95% CI 17.3–66.6), not providing an appropriate provisional diagnosis on the consultation (OR= 17.9; 95% CI 11.3–28.1) and gastroenterology service not rescheduling colonoscopies after an initial cancellation (OR= 11.0; 95% CI 5.1–23.7)
Conclusions
Multifaceted QI activities improved rates of timely colonoscopy referral and performance in an EMR system. However, colonoscopy was not indicated in over one third of patients with positive FOBTs, raising concerns about current screening practices and the appropriate denominator used for performance measurement standards related to colon cancer screening.
doi:10.1038/ajg.2009.55
PMCID: PMC2921791  PMID: 19293786

Results 1-3 (3)