Computerized alerts could improve physicians' prescribing practices

September 05, 2005

A computer monitoring system could significantly improve doctors' prescribing habits, according to a study published in the forthcoming issue of the open-access journal PLoS Medicine.

The monitoring system was designed to reduce the unwanted side affects of drug treatment, otherwise known as adverse drug events (ADEs), by alerting doctors to the potential dangers of a drug to a particular patient. In the United States alone, more than three quarters of a million people are injured or killed as a result of ADEs every year.

Andrew Steele and colleagues designed and tested a system that alerts doctors when medication is ordered for an outpatient clinic in a hospital in Denver, Colorado. The prescriber is alerted when one of five possible ADEs is likely to occur, or when the patient requires further tests to establish whether or not the drug is likely to be safe. The researchers tested the system's effectiveness by examining how doctors acted when alerted and what they did when the system was switched off. They found that it was possible to alter the behaviour of prescribers by alerting them to possible problems; in particular, prescribers were more likely to stop a prescription or to order more tests when they were alerted.

The benefits of a successful computer monitoring system could be great. Reducing ADEs could have a dramatic impact on hospital budgets because they can cost a hospital as much as US$5.6 million per year after litigation. Most importantly the benefit would be felt by patients, who spend on average between eight and twelve days longer in the hospital if affected by an ADE.
Citation: Steele AW, Eisert S, Witter J, Lyons P, Jones MA, et al. (2005) The effect of automated alerts on provider ordering behavior in an outpatient setting. PLoS Med 2(9): e255.

Andrew Steele
Denver Health Information Services
MC 1932
660 Bannock Street
Denver, CO USA
+1-303-436-5952 (fax)


All works published in PLoS Medicine are open access. Everything is immediately available without cost to anyone, anywhere to read, download, redistribute, include in databases, and otherwise use¡Xsubject only to the condition that the original authorship is properly attributed. Copyright is retained by the authors. The Public Library of Science uses the Creative Commons Attribution License.


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