EHRs help boost preventive ultrasound screening rates

While ultrasound screening for abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is known for reducing aneurysm related mortality, and the United States Preventive Services Task Force and the American Heart Association recommend screening for at risk groups, the preventive measure has been underutilized.

Now, according to a study in the Journal of Vascular Surgery, a AAA screening program using an electronic medical record can dramatically increase the number of abdominal ultrasound screening exams, as well as the detection of previously undiagnosed AAA.

The study, by researchers from Kaiser Permanente, involved an examination of more than 68,000 electronic medical records of at-risk men--those between the ages of 65 and 75 with any history of smoking. The researchers created an alert in the EMR that would flag those patients who would be screened for AAA and then followed those patients from March 2012 to June 2013.

"Because abdominal aortic aneurysms are generally asymptomatic before they burst, most of the patients who have a rupture didn't even know that they had an aneurysm," lead author Robert Hye, chief of vascular surgery at Kaiser Permanente San Diego Medical Center, said in an announcement. "That makes screening for AAA all the more vital and important."

According to the study, the number of unscreened patients system-wide decreased from 51.74 percent to 20.26 percent.

In an integrated healthcare system like Kaiser Permanente, AAA screening "can be implemented with a dramatic increase in screening exams and yield of previously undiagnosed AAA," the researchers concluded. Hye added that because of "the distinctive nature of Kaiser Permanente's system" and its integrated network of practitioners and physicians, it is uniquely suited to perform these types of preventive health measures like aneurysm screening, colon cancer screening, and others.

"This type of program would be very hard to implement in a non-integrated system because their practitioners don't have universal EHRs to help them monitor their patients," Hye said.

Research published last March in the Annals of Internal Medicine determined that EHRs can be used to help identify patients in need of colon cancer screening and to help encourage them to obtain such screening.

To learn more:
- read the study in the Journal of Vascular Surgery
- see the announcement

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