EHRs improve screening rates for autism

Adding an autism module to an electronic health record's clinical decision support system can improve screening rates for autism spectrum disorders and identify problems at a younger age, according to a new study in the journal Infants and Young Children.

Researchers from the Indiana University School of Medicine and the Regenstrief Institute used an open-source Child Health Improvement through Computer Automation system (CHICA) to personalize and automate the autism screening process. At the 24-month pediatric visit, the CHICA produces a screening instrument that is automatically scored; if concerns are raised, an alert is sent out so that the physician can investigate further.

Seventy percent of the users in the study agreed that the automation of screening helped them adhere to recommended screening guidelines. Typically children aren't screened for autism until they're four to five years old.

"What's important here is that CHICA will help pediatricians identify autism earlier when treatment is more likely to be effective," Stephen M. Downs, director of Children's Health Services Research at the IU School of Medicine, said in a statement. "Because physicians are busy juggling guidelines for preventive care and need to address concerns brought up by parents during the child's visit--concerns which can supplant routine care--CHICA helps them also address important screening and prevention."

Pediatrics has not been a major focus of EHR vendors or the Meaningful Use program. However, EHRs are proving to be a boon to improving the health of children in a myriad of ways, such as  increasing flu vaccination rates, predicting preterm births and detecting growth disorders.

To learn more:
- here's the study abstract
- read the announcement