Healthcare News & Insights

Drug alerts can help, but doctors get too many

Electronic health systems often provide medication alerts to help busy doctors avoid making dangerous prescription mistakes. But ironically, some systems may give warnings that are too detailed and too plentiful to do much good. 

Those alerts are designed to warn doctors and other clinicians about dangerous drug interactions, patient allergies and other important information when prescribing medication. However, EHR systems often provide too many alerts and include too much unnecessary information, preventing doctors from using those alerts effectively.

That’s the conclusion of a recent study conducted by the Regenstrief Institute and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and published in the International Journal of Medical Informatics.

The study looked at 30 doctors, nurse practitioners and pharmacists as they treated 146 patients. During the study, they received 320 medication alerts, including warnings about drug interactions, patient allergies and duplicate prescriptions.

Often, clinicians received too many alerts (including, for example, alerts about drugs a patient had been been taking for a long time without problems) and alerts with too much information that didn’t apply to the situation at hand. That often led to alerts being ignored or overridden.

Also, researchers said, many of the alerts seemed more geared to pharmacists, even though most were received by doctors and nurses. Also, prescribers were often unsure of why alerts appeared.

This report backs up the conclusions of two other recent studies. One, published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association found that doctors ignore or override 49%-96% of warnings from their EHR systems.

Another, from Health Affairs, claimed that EHR vendors tend to maximize the amount of alerts their systems produce to help limit their liability in lawsuits.

When selecting an EHR system, healthcare organizations should be careful to find a system that provides medical alerts doctors and nurses will actually use.

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