Meyer AND, Scott TMT, Singh H. JAMA Netw Open. 2022;5:e228568.
Delayed communication of abnormal test results can contribute to diagnostic and treatment delays, patient harm, and malpractice claims. The Department of Veterans Affairs specifies abnormal test results be communicated to the patient within seven days if treatment is required, and within 14 days if no treatment is required. In the first full year of the program, 71% of abnormal test results and 80% of normal test results were communicated to the patient within the specified timeframes. Performance varied by facility and type of test.
Root cause analysis is a commonly used tool to identify systems-related factors that contributed to an adverse event. This study assessed a system-based approach, (i.e., collaborative case reviews (CCR) co-led by radiology and an institutional patient safety program) to identify contributing factors and explore the strength of recommended actions in the radiology department at a large academic medical center. Stronger action items, such as standardization of processes, were implemented in 41% of events, and radiology had higher completion rates than other hospital departments.
Rajan SS, Baldwin JL, Giardina TD, et al. J Patient Saf. 2022;18:e262-e266.
Radiofrequency identification (RFID) technology has been most commonly used in perioperative settings to improve patient safety. This study explored whether RFID technology can improve process measures in laboratory settings, such as order tracking, specimen processing, and test result communication. Findings indicate that RFID-tracked orders were more likely to have completed testing process milestones and were completed more quickly.
Lack of timely follow-up of test results is a recognized patient safety problem in primary care and can lead to missed or delayed diagnoses. This study used human factors methods to understand lack of timely follow-up of abnormal test results in outpatient settings. Through interviews with the ordering physicians, the researchers identified several contributing factors, such as provider-patient communication channel mismatch and diffusion of responsibility.
Desai S, Fiumara K, Kachalia A. J Patient Saf. 2021;17:e84-e90.
Outpatient safety is gaining recognition as a focus of research and improvement efforts. This project report describes an ambulatory safety program at an academic health system that targeted reporting, safety culture measurement, medication safety, and test result management. Repeated tracking over a 5-year period revealed that failure to request feedback played a role in the modest incident and concern reporting captured by the program. Decentralizing reporting response responsibilities throughout the system significantly increased feedback activity.
Mays JA, Mathias PC. J Am Med Inform Assoc. 2019;26:269-272.
Point-of-care test results are often manually transcribed into the electronic health record, which introduces risks of manual transcription errors. The authors of this study took advantage of a redundant workflow in which point-of-care blood glucose results were uploaded and also manually entered by staff. They estimate that 5 in 1000 manually entered results contain clinically significant transcription errors and call for interfacing point-to-care instruments as a patient safety strategy.
Ai A, Desai S, Shellman A, et al. Jt Comm J Qual Patient Saf. 2018;44:674-682.
This study examined ambulatory follow-up of test results by aggregating multiple types of data—national surveys on safety culture and patient satisfaction; patient complaints; safety reports; and electronic health record audits of provider response times. Researchers found an association between quicker response time for test results and higher patient satisfaction. They conclude that merging these disparate data sources can uncover new levers to improve patient safety.
Litchfield I, Bentham L, Lilford R, et al. BMJ Qual Saf. 2015;24:691-9.
Failure to appropriately communicate test results is a recognized safety hazard in ambulatory care. Despite more than a decade of research into this problem, this survey of 50 general practices in the United Kingdom found that 80% required patients to call to find out their test results, and a similar proportion had no fail-safe mechanism for tracking test results.
Litchfield IJ, Bentham LM, Lilford RJ, et al. Br J Med Pract. 2015;65:e133-e140.
This interview study revealed shortcomings in the process for notifying patients of test results, mirroring findings from prior studies. Patients expressed a desire for consistent and timely test result notification and noted deficiencies in current processes.
Vaughan L, McAlister G, Bell D. Clin Med (Lond). 2011;11:322-326.
This survey of physicians about the UK equivalent of the "July effect"—a tradition of nearly 50,000 new doctors starting on the first Wednesday in August—found a high degree of concern for patient care, safety, and training. The authors conclude that there is a need for structural changes.
Fischer SH, Tjia J, Field TS. J Am Med Inform Assoc. 2010;17:631-6.
Failure to follow up on test results has been linked to missed and delayed diagnoses in the ambulatory setting. Although electronic health records (EHR) hold great promise for addressing this issue, this systematic review found only modest published evidence linking EHR use to improved laboratory test monitoring. This finding corroborates other studies documenting persistent failure to comprehensively follow up abnormal lab tests and radiologic studies despite use of an EHR. The authors conclude that further research will be required to develop optimal test management systems within electronic medical records.
Grossman E, Phillips RS, Weingart SN. J Patient Saf. 2010;6:172-179.
Tests pending after hospital discharge or following a clinic visit continue to challenge most health care systems. This study implemented a paper-based system to follow up abnormal mammograms and monitored provider responses to those reminders. Based on a report of abnormal mammograms generated by the radiology department, a practice administrator sent a letter to each provider with a copy of the report and a set of questions on behalf of their quality improvement committee. More than 90% of providers responded to the fail-safe reminders, 8% were unaware of the abnormal test, and there was no follow-up plan in place for 3% of cases. Less experienced providers were more likely to be unaware of abnormal mammograms and many lapses were noted in the context of care transitions. The authors conclude that their paper-based system is feasible and valuable but requires full engagement of providers in the process.
Singh H, Thomas EJ, Mani S, et al. Arch Intern Med. 2009;169:1578-1586.
Inadequate follow-up of diagnostic testing is a known safety issue in both hospital and ambulatory settings. Adoption of information technology approaches serves as a logical solution if designed to effectively notify providers of pending or necessary follow-up actions. This study used tracking software to determine if an electronic alert for abnormal imaging results was acknowledged and acted upon in a Veterans Affairs ambulatory setting. Investigators discovered that their seemingly fail-proof system, which included dual-alert communications, still led to persistent problems with missed test results. They also found that the dual-alert communication system was unexpectedly associated with a lack of timely follow-up. The authors advocate for greater multidisciplinary approaches to address these breakdowns.
Failure to adequately follow up on test results is a known problem after hospital discharge, in primary care settings, and within computerized systems. This study reviewed more than 5400 patient medical records from 19 community-based and 4 academic primary care practices and discovered a 7.1% rate of failure to inform (or document informing). Interestingly, investigators found that partial electronic health records (EHRs), with a mix of paper and electronic systems, were associated with higher failure rates than those practices without an EHR or with a complete EHR. Variations in failure rates among practices, ranging from 0% to 26%, suggest that best practices can make a significant difference. A past AHRQ WebM&M commentary discussed the impact of delayed notification for a test result following hospital discharge.
El-Kareh R, Gandhi TK, Poon EG, et al. J Gen Intern Med. 2009;24:464-8.
Less than 20% of ambulatory practices in the United States utilize electronic health records (EHRs). Uptake has been limited by cost issues and concern about the impact of EHRs on clinician workflow. This survey evaluated clinicians' perceptions of a newly implemented electronic medical record in three primary care clinics. Although initially clinicians felt that the EHR resulted in longer patient visits and increased the time spent documenting, by 1 year after implementation, clinicians felt that the EHR improved their ability to follow up on test results and communicate with other providers, and contributed to higher quality care overall. Importantly, these perceived advantages emerged only after 1 full year of using the new system.
Ferris TG, Johnson SA, Co JPT, et al. Pediatrics. 2009;123 Suppl 2:S85-91.
Implementation of information technology solutions for following up on test results improved reliability and provider satisfaction. However, clinics that only partially implemented such systems reported decreased efficiency and greater concern about patient safety issues.
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