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October 17, 2017

Rules of Thumb, Benefits, and Dangers of EHR Alerts

In theory, the more you alert a provider to potential problems, the better care the patient will receive. Of the many helpful features included within the framework of an electronic health record (EHR), provider pop-up alerts can simultaneously be one of the most positive and most negative.

Depending on how they’re implemented.  Too many alerts can lead to alert fatigue, which can be an alarming problem.

If implemented without proper alignment, alerts can have the inverse effect.  When providers are inundated with pop-up messages, they focus less on the patient, and their goal becomes getting out of the system instead of using the specified information to help the patient.

When an EHR is implemented for the first time, or an update is being installed that includes an increase in alerts, the IT or project team can feel that additional alerts inherently means increased patient safety.  However, that’s not necessarily the case.  If alerts aren’t set up properly, they can downgrade patient care.  Alert presentation and timing must be thoroughly vetted to ensure success.

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A good rule of thumb to follow for EHR alerts: less is more.  When implementing new alerts, start slowly.  Test, test, test on the backend.  Make sure they’re firing at the appropriate time and with pertinent information.  If an alert is set to pop-up when steroids come into play, that must be tested thoroughly to ensure that medicines that include steroids, such as eye drops, aren’t flagged when it’s not necessary.  There’s a direct correlation between unnecessary alerts and alert fatigue.

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