Researchers develop electronic algorithms to prevent delays in patient follow-up

Researchers at Houston's Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center have developed electronic alerts to identify patients who are experiencing delays in receiving their imaging results.

Previous research from the team found approximately 9 percent of patients with radiologic test results that indicate the possibility of cancer are not followed up with within 30 days.

According to Hardeep Singh, MD, an associate professor of medicine and health services research at Baylor and a staff physician at DeBakey VA Medical Center, failing to follow up with patients who have abnormal imaging results is a common problem due to heavy workloads, information overload, time pressures, diffusion of follow-up responsibility and lack of robust test result tracking systems.

"Our team developed and tested a computerized trigger algorithm to scan all electronic medical records at a healthcare facility to find patients who had a chest X-ray or CT scan suspicious for lung cancer, but who did not have any follow-up within 30 days," said Dr. Singh.

To test the algorithm, the researchers programmed it into a database from 2009 of patients who had abnormal chest imaging results. The algorithm identified 131 patients whose criteria identified them as being at a higher risk for a delay in care. Reviewing the charts, the research team confirmed 75 of the patients truly needed action but had not received it within 30 days.

Next, Dr. Singh says the researchers will test the algorithm in real-time to alert clinicians to delays in patient follow-up and diagnostic evaluation as early as possible.

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