EMRs are supposed to improve communication and information flow, but to get the most out of the technology, doctors actually have to, you know, pay attention to their messages. They don't always do so.
In a study conducted at the DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Houston, and reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine this week, physicians often neglected electronic messages alerting them of abnormal diagnostic imaging test results. Of the 1,196 alerts examined, 18 percent went unopened for two weeks, and nearly 8 percent were ignored for at least four weeks. Some of the patients that didn't get proper follow-up eventually were diagnosed with cancer.
"This shows we still have a lot of work to do," lead researcher Dr. Hardeep Singh told the Houston Chronicle. "It also shows you can't just install an electronic system and assume it'll work optimally. There's a human factor." Still, the VA alert system may represent a vast improvement over paper-based systems, as Singh pointed to a 2004 Harvard University study that found that 36 percent of women with abnormal mammogram results didn't get timely follow-up care.