Too many electronic health record alerts may be leading doctors to skip them

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Your doctor may be more likely to ignore your test results if they come electronically .

A new study published in the JAMA Internal Medicine on Mar. 4 revealed that doctors receive about 63 electronic health record (EHR)-based alerts each day, which are supposed to let them know about abnormal patient results. And, almost one-third of the doctors surveyed -- about 30 percent -- admitted that they had missed some results because of too many alerts.

"If you're getting 100 emails a day, you are bound to miss a few. I study this area and I still sometimes miss emails. We have good intentions, but sometimes getting too many can be a problem," Dr. Hardeep Singh, chief of health policy, quality, and informatics at the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center, in Houston, told TIME.

A105-question survey given to 2,600 primary care doctors revealed that 87 percent of doctors said that the number of alerts they received was over the top. Seventy percent said they were getting more alerts than they could handle, and 56 percent said the system made it possible for them to miss results.

Singh suggested that the alerts should be color-coded to signify which one was more important, and folders could be automatically set up to sort out the priority of messages. While some capabilities are already in place, he believes that the system needs to improve. Also, patients need to follow-up even if they don't hear from a medical professional, he added.

"We need to dispel the myth of 'no news is good news from the doctor,'" Singh said. "In fact, if patients don't hear back about the results, they should actively seek them out." There's a small chance that the results were lost in the deluge of information your doctor receives every day.

Dr. William Tierney, president and CEO of the Regenstrief Institute, Inc., and associate dean for clinical effectiveness research at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, said to HealthDay that one thing is certain: We shouldn't return to paper files. He suggested modifying the EHR system to make it easier for physicians, not the billing companies that it is currently designed for.

"It's important to recognize that the old paper systems were not better," he said. "If anything, they were worse. But it's also true that the new electronic systems are very young, and they are imperfect. And they're being implemented very broadly and very quickly, so they're not going to do all things they have to do early on in their use."

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