January 5, 2011

Software Helps Doctors Give Better Care

(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- With a typically large amount of patients, and a barrage of information for each one, detail orientation isn't always easy for physicians. Thankfully, a new program has been developed to quickly assess existing electronic patient records and point out any deficiencies in his or her current treatment.

"It helps us find needles in the haystack and focus on patients who really have outstanding needs that may have slipped between the cracks," Stephen Persell, M.D., assistant professor of medicine at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, and lead author of a study of the software, was quoted as saying.

Researchers created the program by taking the pre-existing tools of the electronic health records system and updating them with performance reports and a greater sensitivity to the quality of information seen by doctors.

The software blinks a little yellow light at the side of the computer screen to alert the doctor if a patient has not received prescribed medications, vaccines or other treatments. For example, if a patient had been taken off of a prescribed medication during hospitalization, the doctor will be notified.

The reminders are designed to be non-intrusive and only seek out important discrepancies between prescribed and actual care.

"You can't shove it in doctors' faces, or they walk away from it," Persell was quoted as saying. "We used reminders that were not intrusive but were still effective because doctors had faith that the data was accurate, and they could enter data to make it more accurate."

The 40 doctors involved in the study received quarterly performance analyses based on the efficacy of their treatment of chronic disease patients as well as the preventative quality care measures taken. Persell believes that the doctors became more willing to use the software after they continually noticed their performance improving.

The study showed improvements in patient care. Pneumonia vaccinations rose, from 80 percent to 90 percent, as did colon cancer screenings, from 57 percent to 62 percent.

"The gains are modest, but if you are already at 90 percent and go to 94 percent, that's important," Persell was quoted as saying.

Source: Northwestern University