Background and Objective
On March 11, 2009, the Veterans Health Administration (VA) implemented an electronic health record (EHR)-based intervention that required all pathology results to be transmitted to ordering providers via mandatory automated notifications. We examined the impact of this intervention on improving follow-up of abnormal outpatient pathology results.
Research Design and Subjects
We extracted pathology reports from the EHR of two VA sites. From 16,738 pre- and 17,305 post-intervention reports between 09/01/2008 and 09/30/2009, we randomly selected about 5% and evaluated follow-up outcomes using a standardized chart review instrument. Documented responses to the alerted report (e.g., ordering follow-up tests or referrals, notifying patients, and prescribing/changing treatment) were recorded.
Primary outcome measures included proportion of timely follow-up responses (within 30 days) and median time to direct response for abnormal reports.
Of 816 pre- and 798 post-intervention reports reviewed, 666 (81.6%) and 688 (86.2%) were abnormal. Overall, there was no apparent intervention effect on timely follow-up (69% vs. 67.1%;p=0.4) or median time to direct response (8 days vs. 8 days; p=0.7). However, logistic regression uncovered a significant intervention effect (pre-intervention OR, 0.7; 95%CI 0.5-1.0) after accounting for site-specific differences in follow-up, with a lower likelihood of timely follow-up at one site (OR,0.4; 95%CI 0.2-0.7).
An electronic intervention to improve test result follow-up at two VA institutions using the same EHR was found effective only after accounting for certain local contextual factors. Aggregating the effect of EHR interventions across different institutions and EHRs without controlling for contextual factors might underestimate their potential benefits.
Anatomic pathology; electronic health record; communication; follow-up; post-analytic phase
Delays in colorectal cancer (CRC) diagnosis are one of the most common reasons for malpractice claims and lead to poor outcomes. However, they are not well studied.
We used a mixed quantitative-qualitative approach to analyze post-referral colonoscopy delays in CRC patients and explored referring physician’s perception of processes surrounding these delays.
Two physician-raters conducted independent electronic health record reviews of new CRC cases in a large integrated safety-net system to determine post-referral colonoscopy delays, which we defined as failures to perform colonoscopy within 60 days of referral for an established indication(s). To explore perceptions of colonoscopy processes, we conducted semi-structured interviews with a sample of primary care physicians (PCPs) and used a content analysis approach.
Of 104 CRC cases that met inclusion criteria, reviewers agreed on the presence of post-referral colonoscopy delays in 35 (33.7%) cases; κ = 0.99 (95% CI, 0.83–0.99). The median time between first referral and completion of colonoscopy was 123.0 days (range 62.0–938.0; IQR=90.0 days). In about two-thirds of instances (64.8%), the reason for delay was a delayed future appointment with the gastroenterology service. On interviews, PCPs attributed long delays in scheduling to reduced endoscopic capacity and inefficient processes related to colonoscopy referral and scheduling, including considerable ambiguity regarding referral guidelines. Many suggested that navigation models be applied to streamline CRC diagnosis.
Post-referral delays in CRC diagnosis are potentially preventable. A comprehensive mixed-methods methodology might be useful for others to identify the steps in the diagnostic process that are in most need for improvement.
Diagnostic delays; colorectal cancer; primary care; referrals; practice patterns
Resident duty-hour regulations potentially shift workload from resident to attending physicians. We sought to understand how current or future regulatory changes might impact safety in academic pediatric and neonatal intensive care units (ICUs).
US academic pediatric and neonatal ICUs
Attending pediatric and neonatal intensivists
We evaluated perceptions on four ICU safety-related risk measures potentially affected by current duty-hour regulations: 1) Attending physician and resident fatigue, 2) Attending physician work-load, 3) Errors (self-reported rates by attending physicians or perceived resident error rates), and 4) Safety culture. We also evaluated perceptions of how these risks would change with further duty hour restrictions.
Measurements and Main Results
We administered our survey between February and April 2010 to 688 eligible physicians, of which 360 (52.3%) responded. Most believed that resident error rates were unchanged or worse (91.9%) and safety culture was unchanged or worse (84.4%) with current duty-hour regulations. Of respondents, 61.9% believed their own work-hours providing direct patient care increased and 55.8% believed they were more fatigued while providing direct patient care. Most (85.3%) perceived no increase in their own error rates currently, but in the scenario of further reduction in resident duty-hours, over half (53.3%) believed that safety culture would worsen and a significant proportion (40.3%) believed that their own error rates would increase.
Pediatric intensivists do not perceive improved patient safety from current resident duty hour restrictions. Policies to further restrict resident duty hours should consider unintended consequences of worsening certain aspects of ICU safety.
Resident duty hours; graduate medical education; Patient Safety; Intensive Care; Pediatrics; Medical Errors
Although misdiagnosis in the outpatient setting leads to significant patient harm and wasted resources, it is not well studied. We surveyed primary care physicians (PCPs) about barriers to timely diagnosis in the outpatient setting and assessed their perceptions of diagnostic difficulty.
We conducted a survey of general internists and family physicians practicing in an integrated health system across 10 geographically dispersed states in 2005. The survey elicited information on key cognitive failures (such as in clinical knowledge or judgment) for a specific case, and solicited strategies for reducing diagnostic delays. Content analysis was used to categorize cognitive failures and strategies for improvement. We examined the extent and predictors of diagnostic difficulty, defined as reporting >5% patients difficult to diagnose.
Of 1817 physicians surveyed, 1054 (58%) responded; 848 (80%) respondents primarily practiced in outpatient settings and had an assigned patient panel (inclusion sample). Inadequate knowledge (19.9%) was the most commonly reported cognitive factor. Half reported >5% of their patients were difficult to diagnose; more experienced physicians reported less diagnostic difficulty. In adjusted analyses, problems with information processing (information availability and time to review it) and the referral process, were associated with greater diagnostic difficulty. Strategies for improvement most commonly involved workload issues (panel size, non-visit tasks).
PCPs report a variety of reasons for diagnostic difficulties in primary care practice. In our study, knowledge gaps appear to be a prominent concern. Interventions that address these gaps as well as practice level issues such as time to process diagnostic information and better subspecialty input may reduce diagnostic difficulties in primary care.
diagnostic error; missed and delayed diagnosis; primary care; cognitive errors; patient safety
To explore perceptions of primary care physicians’ (PCPs) and oncologists’ roles, responsibilities, and patterns of communication related to shared cancer care in three integrated health systems that used electronic health records (EHRs).
We conducted semi-structured interviews with ten early stage colorectal cancer patients and fourteen oncologists and PCPs. Sample sizes were determined by thematic saturation. Dominant themes and codes were identified and subsequently applied to all transcripts.
Physicians reported that EHRs improved communication within integrated systems, but communication with physicians outside their system was still difficult. PCPs expressed uncertainty about their role during cancer care, even though medical oncologists emphasized the importance of co-morbidity control during cancer treatment. Both patients and physicians described additional roles for PCPs, including psychological distress support and behavior modification.
Integrated systems that use EHRs likely facilitate shared cancer care through improved PCP-oncologist communication. However, strategies to facilitate a more active role for PCPs in managing co-morbidities, psychological distress and behavior modification, as well as to overcome communication challenges between physicians not practicing within the same integrated system, are still needed to improve shared cancer care.
Diagnostic errors in primary care are harmful but poorly studied. To facilitate understanding of diagnostic errors in real-world primary care settings using electronic health records (EHRs), this study explored the use of the Situational Awareness (SA) framework from aviation human factors research.
A mixed-methods study was conducted involving reviews of EHR data followed by semi-structured interviews of selected providers from two institutions in the US. The study population included 380 consecutive patients with colorectal and lung cancers diagnosed between February 2008 and January 2009. Using a pre-tested data collection instrument, trained physicians identified diagnostic errors, defined as lack of timely action on one or more established indications for diagnostic work-up for lung and colorectal cancers. Twenty-six providers involved in cases with and without errors were interviewed. Interviews probed for providers' lack of SA and how this may have influenced the diagnostic process.
Of 254 cases meeting inclusion criteria, errors were found in 30 (32.6%) of 92 lung cancer cases and 56 (33.5%) of 167 colorectal cancer cases. Analysis of interviews related to error cases revealed evidence of lack of one of four levels of SA applicable to primary care practice: information perception, information comprehension, forecasting future events, and choosing appropriate action based on the first three levels. In cases without error, the application of the SA framework provided insight into processes involved in attention management.
A framework of SA can help analyze and understand diagnostic errors in primary care settings that use EHRs.
diagnostic error; decision-making; patient safety; primary care; medical errors; human factors; cancer; electronic health records; diagnostic delays
Diagnostic errors in primary care are harmful but difficult to detect. We tested an electronic health record (EHR)-based method to detect diagnostic errors in routine primary care practice.
We conducted a retrospective study of primary care visit records “triggered” through electronic queries for possible evidence of diagnostic errors: Trigger 1: A primary care index visit followed by unplanned hospitalization within 14 days; and Trigger 2: A primary care index visit followed by ≥ 1 unscheduled visit(s) within 14 days. Control visits met neither criterion. Electronic trigger queries were applied to EHR repositories at two large healthcare systems between October 1, 2006 and September 30, 2007. Blinded physician-reviewers independently determined presence or absence of diagnostic errors in selected triggered and control visits. An error was defined as a missed opportunity to make or pursue the correct diagnosis when adequate data was available at the index visit. Disagreements were resolved by an independent third reviewer.
Queries were applied to 212,165 visits. On record review, we found diagnostic errors in 141 of 674 Trigger 1-positive records (PPV=20.9%, 95% CI, 17.9%-24.0%) and 36 of 669 Trigger 2-positive records (PPV=5.4%, 95% CI, 3.7%-7.1%). The control PPV of 2.1% (95% CI, 0.1%-3.3%) was significantly lower than that of both triggers (P ≤ .002). Inter-rater reliability was modest, though higher than in comparable previous studies (κ = 0.37 [95% CI=0.31-0.44]).
While physician agreement on diagnostic error remains low, an EHR-facilitated surveillance methodology could be useful for gaining insight into the origin of these errors.
diagnostic errors; primary care; patient safety; electronic health records; triggers; automated surveillance; error detection
Electronic health records (EHRs) have potential quality and safety benefits. However, reports of EHR-related safety hazards are now emerging. The Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) for Health Information Technology (HIT) recently sponsored an Institute of Medicine committee to evaluate how HIT use affects patient safety. In this paper, we propose the creation of a national EHR oversight program to provide dedicated surveillance of EHR-related safety hazards and to promote learning from identified errors, close calls, and adverse events. The program calls for data gathering, investigation/analysis and regulatory components. The first two functions will depend on institution-level EHR safety committees that will investigate all known EHR-related adverse events and near-misses and report them nationally using standardized methods. These committees should also perform routine safety self-assessments to proactively identify new risks. Nationally, we propose the long-term creation of a centralized, non-partisan board with an appropriate legal and regulatory infrastructure to ensure the safety of EHRs. We discuss the rationale of the proposed oversight program and its potential organizational components and functions. These include mechanisms for robust data collection and analyses of all safety concerns using multiple methods that extend beyond reporting; multidisciplinary investigation of selected high-risk safety events; and enhanced coordination with other national agencies in order to facilitate broad dissemination of hazards information. Implementation of this proposed infrastructure can facilitate identification of EHR-related adverse events and errors and potentially create a safer and more effective EHR-based health care delivery system.
Diagnostic errors (missed, delayed, or wrong diagnosis) have gained recent attention and are associated with significant preventable morbidity and mortality. We reviewed the recent literature to identify interventions that have been, or could be, implemented to address systems-related factors that contribute directly to diagnostic error.
We conducted a comprehensive search using multiple search strategies. We first identified candidate articles in English between 2000 and 2009 from a PubMed search that exclusively evaluated for articles related to diagnostic error or delay. We then sought additional papers from references in the initial dataset, searches of additional databases, and subject matter experts. Articles were included if they formally evaluated an intervention to prevent or reduce diagnostic error; however, we also included papers if interventions were suggested and not tested in order to inform the state-of-the science on the topic. We categorized interventions according to the step in the diagnostic process they targeted: patient-provider encounter, performance and interpretation of diagnostic tests, follow-up and tracking of diagnostic information, subspecialty and referral-related; and patient-specific.
We identified 43 articles for full review, of which 6 reported tested interventions and 37 contained suggestions for possible interventions. Empirical studies, though somewhat positive, were non-experimental or quasi-experimental and included a small number of clinicians or health care sites. Outcome measures in general were underdeveloped and varied markedly between studies, depending on the setting or step in the diagnostic process involved.
Despite a number of suggested interventions in the literature, few empirical studies have tested interventions to reduce diagnostic error in the last decade. Advancing the science of diagnostic error prevention will require more robust study designs and rigorous definitions of diagnostic processes and outcomes to measure intervention effects.
Despite its promise, recent literature has revealed possible safety hazards of health information technology (HIT) use. The Office of the National Coordinator for HIT recently sponsored an Institute of Medicine committee to synthesize evidence and experience from the field on how HIT affects patient safety. To lay the groundwork for defining, measuring, and analyzing HIT-related safety hazards, we propose that Health information technology-related error occurs anytime HIT is unavailable for use, malfunctions during use, is used incorrectly by someone, or when HIT interacts with another system component incorrectly, resulting in data being lost or incorrectly entered, displayed, or transmitted. These errors, or the decisions that result from them, significantly increase the risk of adverse events and patient harm. In this paper, we describe how a socio-technical approach can be used to understand the complex origins of HIT errors, which may have roots in rapidly evolving technological, professional, organizational, and policy initiatives.
Electronic Health Records; Health Information Technology; Patient Safety; Errors
Following the IOM report, “Health IT and Patient Safety: Building Safer Systems for Better Care,” the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology sponsored a project to address safety concerns in electronic health record-enabled (EHR) healthcare systems. To address the complexity of EHR-related errors and the difficulty in eliminating them, we designed the SAFER project (Safety Assurance Factors for EHR Resilience) to proactively identify potential safety issues and best practices for addressing them. We take into account the full sociotechnical context of EHR implementation and use. Our iterative work is grounded in several recently developed informatics-based scientific methods including:
Review of scientific clinical informatics literatureUse of Rapid Assessment Process mixed-methods approaches developed for evaluating EHR-enabled healthcare systems in contextA semantic wiki for asynchronous collaborationAn 8-dimension socio-technical model of safe and effective EHR use
We are developing and piloting self-assessment “checklist-type” tools using a unique mix of methods based on the science of biomedical informatics. As the country continues its rapid EHR deployment, we believe that these tools are essential to ensure that the safety of the “EHR-enabled healthcare system” continues to improve.
Inadequate supervision is a significant contributing factor to medical errors involving trainees but supervision in high-risk settings such as the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) is not well studied.
We explored how residents in the ICU experienced supervision related to medication safety not only from supervising physicians but also from other professionals.
Design, Setting, Measurements
Using qualitative methods, we examined in-depth interviews with 17 residents working in ICUs of three tertiary-care hospitals. We analyzed residents' perspectives on receiving and initiating supervision from physicians within the traditional medical hierarchy and from other professionals, including nurses, staff pharmacists and clinical pharmacists (“interprofessional supervision”).
While initiating their own supervision within the traditional hierarchy, residents believed in seeking assistance from fellows and attendings and articulated rules of thumb for doing so; however, they also experienced difficulties. Some residents were concerned that their questions would reflect poorly on them; others were embarrassed by their mistaken decisions. Conversely, residents described receiving interprofessional supervision from nurses and pharmacists, who proactively monitored, intervened in, and guided residents' decisions. Residents relied on nurses and pharmacists for non-judgmental answers to their queries, especially after-hours. To enhance both types of supervision, residents emphasized the importance of improving interpersonal communication skills.
Residents depended on interprofessional supervision when making decisions regarding medications in the ICU. Improving interprofessional supervision, which thus far has been under-recognized and underemphasized in graduate medical education, can potentially improve medication safety in high-risk settings.
medical errors; housestaff; supervision; communication; teamwork; patient safety; medication errors
Electronic health records are increasingly being used to facilitate referral communication in the outpatient setting. However, despite support by technology, referral communication between primary care providers and specialists is often unsatisfactory and is unable to eliminate care delays. This may be in part due to lack of attention to how information and communication technology fits within the social environment of health care. Making electronic referral communication effective requires a multifaceted “socio-technical” approach. Using an 8-dimensional socio-technical model for health information technology as a framework, we describe ten recommendations that represent good clinical practices to design, develop, implement, improve, and monitor electronic referral communication in the outpatient setting. These recommendations were developed on the basis of our previous work, current literature, sound clinical practice, and a systems-based approach to understanding and implementing health information technology solutions. Recommendations are relevant to system designers, practicing clinicians, and other stakeholders considering use of electronic health records to support referral communication.
BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE
High plasma levels of fenretinide [N-(4-hydroxyphenyl)retinamide (4-HPR)] were associated with improved outcome in a phase II clinical trial. Low bioavailability of 4-HPR has been limiting its therapeutic applications. This study characterized metabolism of 4-HPR in humans and mice, and to explore the effects of ketoconazole, an inhibitor of CYP3A4, as a modulator to increase 4-HPR plasma levels in mice and to increase the low bioavailability of 4-HPR.
4-HPR metabolites were identified by mass spectrometric analysis and levels of 4-HPR and its metabolites [N-(4-methoxyphenyl)retinamide (4-MPR) and 4-oxo-N-(4-hydroxyphenyl)retinamide (4-oxo-4-HPR)] were quantified by high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). Kinetic analysis of enzyme activities and the effects of enzyme inhibitors were performed in pooled human and pooled mouse liver microsomes, and in human cytochrome P450 (CYP) 3A4 isoenzyme microsomes. In vivo metabolism of 4-HPR was inhibited in mice.
Six 4-HPR metabolites were identified in the plasma of patients and mice. 4-HPR was oxidized to 4-oxo-4-HPR, at least in part via human CYP3A4. The CYP3A4 inhibitor ketoconazole significantly reduced 4-oxo-4-HPR formation in both human and mouse liver microsomes. In two strains of mice, co-administration of ketoconazole with 4-HPR in vivo significantly increased 4-HPR plasma concentrations by > twofold over 4-HPR alone and also increased 4-oxo-4-HPR levels.
CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS
Mice may serve as an in vivo model of human 4-HPR pharmacokinetics. In vivo data suggest that the co-administration of ketoconazole at normal clinical doses with 4-HPR may increase systemic exposure to 4-HPR in humans.
fenretinide; metabolism; ketoconazole; paediatric cancers
Electronic health records (EHRs) facilitate several innovations capable of reforming health care. Despite their promise, many currently unanswered legal, ethical, and financial questions threaten the widespread adoption and use of EHRs. Key legal dilemmas that must be addressed in the near-term pertain to the extent of clinicians' responsibilities for reviewing the entire computer-accessible clinical synopsis from multiple clinicians and institutions, the liabilities posed by overriding clinical decision support warnings and alerts, and mechanisms for clinicians to publically report potential EHR safety issues. Ethical dilemmas that need additional discussion relate to opt-out provisions that exclude patients from electronic record storage, sale of deidentified patient data by EHR vendors, adolescent control of access to their data, and use of electronic data repositories to redesign the nation's health care delivery and payment mechanisms on the basis of statistical analyses. Finally, one overwhelming financial question is who should pay for EHR implementation because most users and current owners of these systems will not receive the majority of benefits. The authors recommend that key stakeholders begin discussing these issues in a national forum. These actions can help identify and prioritize solutions to the key legal, ethical, and financial dilemmas discussed, so that widespread, safe, effective, interoperable EHRs can help transform health care.
electronic health records; ethics; medical; confidentiality
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.
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.
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.
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.
referrals; primary care; sub-specialty care; electronic health records; patient safety; health information technology; communication; diagnostic errors; patient follow-up
To identify genes underlying autosomal recessive retinitis pigmentosa (ARRP) by homozygosity mapping.
Families with ARRP were recruited after complete ophthalmic evaluation of all members and diagnosis of RP by predefined criteria. Genomic DNA from affected members of 26 families was genotyped on Illumina single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) 6.0 K arrays with standard procedures. Genotypes were evaluated for homozygous regions that were common and concordant between affected members of each family. The genes mapping to homozygous intervals within these families were screened for pathogenic changes with PCR amplification and sequencing of coding regions. Cosegegration of sequence changes with disease was determined within each pedigree, and each variation was tested for presence in 100 unrelated normal controls.
A genome-wide scan for homozygosity showed homozygous regions harboring the tubby like protein 1 gene (TULP1; chromosome 6) in one family, the nuclear receptor subfamily 2, group E, member 3 gene (NR2E3; chromosome 15) in three families, and the membrane frizzled-related protein gene (MFRP; chromosome 11) in one family. Screening of the three genes in the respective families revealed homozygous disease-causing mutations in three families. These included a missense mutation in TULP1, a deletion-cum-insertion in NR2E3, and a single base deletion in MFRP. Patients from all three families had a rod-cone type of dystrophy with night blindness initially. The NR2E3 and MFRP genes were associated with fundus features atypical of RP.
This study shows involvement of the TULP1, NR2E3, and MFRP genes in ARRP in Indian cases. Genome-wide screening with SNP arrays followed by a prioritized candidate gene evaluation is useful in identifying genes in these patients.
Delays in colorectal cancer (CRC) diagnosis related to colonoscopy referrals are not well studied. We tested whether certain details of information transmitted through computerized provider order entry (CPOE)-based referrals affected timeliness of diagnostic colonoscopy for patients with newly diagnosed colorectal cancer (CRC).
We studied a 6-year cohort of all newly diagnosed patients with CRC at a large tertiary care Veterans Affairs hospital and its affiliated multispecialty clinics. Referring providers included primary care clinicians, resident trainees, and other specialists. From the colonoscopy referral preceding CRC diagnosis, we determined request date, type and frequency of diagnostic clues provided (symptoms, signs, test results), notation of urgency, and documented evidence of verbal contact between referring provider and consultant to expedite referral. We compared distributions of proportions of diagnostic clues between patients with > 60 and ≤ 60 day lag and examined predictors of lag time.
Of 367 electronic referrals identified with a median lag of 57 days, 178 (48.5%) had lag > 60 days. Referrals associated with longer lag times included those with “positive fecal occult blood test” (92 days, P<0.0001), “hematochezia” (75 days, P=0.02), “history of polyps” (221 days, P=0.0006), and when “screening” (versus specific symptoms) was given as reason for diagnostic colonoscopy (203 days, P=0.002). Independent predictors of shorter wait times included 3 diagnostic clues, notation of urgency, and documentation of verbal contact.
Attention to certain details of diagnostic information provided to consultants through CPOE-based referrals may help reduce delays in CRC diagnosis.
delayed cancer diagnosis; colorectal cancer; colonoscopy referrals; computerized order entry; electronic medical records; primary care
Conceptual models have been developed to address challenges inherent in studying health information technology (HIT). This manuscript introduces an 8-dimensional model specifically designed to address the socio-technical challenges involved in design, development, implementation, use, and evaluation of HIT within complex adaptive healthcare systems. The 8 dimensions are not independent, sequential, or hierarchical, but rather are interdependent and interrelated concepts similar to compositions of other complex adaptive systems. Hardware and software computing infrastructure refers to equipment and software used to power, support, and operate clinical applications and devices. Clinical content refers to textual or numeric data and images that constitute the “language” of clinical applications. The human computer interface includes all aspects of the computer that users can see, touch, or hear as they interact with it. People refers to everyone who interacts in some way with the system, from developer to end-user, including potential patient-users. Workflow and communication are the processes or steps involved in assuring that patient care tasks are carried out effectively. Two additional dimensions of the model are internal organizational features (e.g., policies, procedures, and culture) and external rules and regulations, both of which may facilitate or constrain many aspects of the preceding dimensions. The final dimension is measurement and monitoring, which refers to the process of measuring and evaluating both intended and unintended consequences of HIT implementation and use. We illustrate how our model has been successfully applied in real-world complex adaptive settings to understand and improve HIT applications at various stages of development and implementation.
Successful subspecialty referrals require considerable coordination and interactive communication among the primary care provider (PCP), the subspecialist, and the patient, which may be challenging in the outpatient setting. Even when referrals are facilitated by electronic health records (EHRs) (i.e., e-referrals), lapses in patient follow-up might occur. Although compelling reasons exist why referral coordination should be improved, little is known about which elements of the complex referral coordination process should be targeted for improvement. Using Okhuysen & Bechky's coordination framework, this paper aims to understand the barriers, facilitators, and suggestions for improving communication and coordination of EHR-based referrals in an integrated healthcare system.
We conducted a qualitative study to understand coordination breakdowns related to e-referrals in an integrated healthcare system and examined work-system factors that affect the timely receipt of subspecialty care. We conducted interviews with seven subject matter experts and six focus groups with a total of 30 PCPs and subspecialists at two tertiary care Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers. Using techniques from grounded theory and content analysis, we identified organizational themes that affected the referral process.
Four themes emerged: lack of an institutional referral policy, lack of standardization in certain referral procedures, ambiguity in roles and responsibilities, and inadequate resources to adapt and respond to referral requests effectively. Marked differences in PCPs' and subspecialists' communication styles and individual mental models of the referral processes likely precluded the development of a shared mental model to facilitate coordination and successful referral completion. Notably, very few barriers related to the EHR were reported.
Despite facilitating information transfer between PCPs and subspecialists, e-referrals remain prone to coordination breakdowns. Clear referral policies, well-defined roles and responsibilities for key personnel, standardized procedures and communication protocols, and adequate human resources must be in place before implementing an EHR to facilitate referrals.