Why Physicians Override Best Practice Alerts


Research published earlier this year in the Journal of Hospital Medicine finds that rationales offered by physicians for overriding interruptive, computerized best practice alerts (BPAs) regarding whether or not to give blood transfusions vary widely, including specialty service protocolized behaviors, anticipation of surgical or procedural interventions, and imminent hospital transfers.

The electronic health record at Stanford University Medical Center in Palo Alto, Calif., has an automated alert function to check reported hemoglobin level and trigger a pop-up reminder when a doctor orders a transfusion for a patient with a hemoglobin level of 9 or above—outside of the recognized guidelines—prompting the doctor to either abort the transfusion or provide a reason for the override, explains co-author Lisa Shieh, MD, PhD, FHM, medical director of quality in the department of medicine at Stanford.

“Our study was trying to understand why providers still transfuse, even when we provide just-in-time education on transfusion recommendations,” she says. “We can’t say that all of these orders are inappropriate. But, for many reasons, blood has harms and is costly.

“We want to convey an overall understanding about why this issue is important.”

Although a substantial number of transfusions continue outside of the recommended guidelines, Stanford has reduced its numbers significantly.

“I’m a big believer in clinical decision support … if it’s designed well and doesn’t add to alert fatigue,” Dr. Shieh says. “I think this BPA was effective in education and making people stop and think why they were ordering transfusions. Our next step will be to look at the outlier practices and maybe have a conversation with them, doctor to doctor.”

Stanford is looking at sepsis treatment as a next target.

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