Healthcare News & Insights

Study: EHRs don’t deliver fast lab test results

Although one of the reported benefits of EHRs is that they can help doctors and patients receive test results more quickly than in a paper-based system, a new study says that isn’t always the case in practice. 

Despite having advanced electronic health record (EHR) systems, there are a still a number of obstacles that keep test results from being delivered to patients, according to a recent report published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association. That’s especially a problem in the case of abnormal results, when delays in getting them to patients could become a significant safety concern.

And in the survey of 2,500 primary care physicians within the Department of Veterans’ affairs, 20% wait until the patient’s next visit to report abnormal results, while 46% rely on additional visits to give patients normal test results, consistent with previous studies. That’s despite the fact that the majority had at least two years’ experience working with the VA’s EHR system, which, in theory, should make delivering results easier.

Trouble managing EHR alerts

What can healthcare organizations do to help send results more quickly? While 55% of the practitioners surveyed said EHRs don’t have features that make it convenient to notify patients of results, that’s only part of the problem. In addition, 46% said they don’t get enough training on using their EHR’s test notification system, and only 34% said they have enough staff support for notifying patients of test results.

Another issue had to do with so-called “alert fatigue,” which happens when EHR systems display so many alerts that doctors miss or ignore some that are important. In addition to alerts about test results, systems may also show alerts related to scheduled treatments and tests, prescriptions, and other areas. Nearly 70% of doctors said the EHR system displays more alerts than they can manage, and more than a third spend time after hours or on weekends managing alerts.

However, the doctors surveyed also failed to take advantage of features in the VA’s EHR system designed to make managing alerts easier, highlighting the need for more EHR training to help doctors get the most out of their systems.

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