Effects of computerized guidelines for managing heart disease in primary care

J Gen Intern Med. 2003 Dec;18(12):967-76. doi: 10.1111/j.1525-1497.2003.30635.x.


Background: Electronic information systems have been proposed as one means to reduce medical errors of commission (doing the wrong thing) and omission (not providing indicated care).

Objective: To assess the effects of computer-based cardiac care suggestions.

Design: A randomized, controlled trial targeting primary care physicians and pharmacists.

Subjects: A total of 706 outpatients with heart failure and/or ischemic heart disease.

Interventions: Evidence-based cardiac care suggestions, approved by a panel of local cardiologists and general internists, were displayed to physicians and pharmacists as they cared for enrolled patients.

Measurements: Adherence with the care suggestions, generic and condition-specific quality of life, acute exacerbations of their cardiac disease, medication compliance, health care costs, satisfaction with care, and physicians' attitudes toward guidelines.

Results: Subjects were followed for 1 year during which they made 3,419 primary care visits and were eligible for 2,609 separate cardiac care suggestions. The intervention had no effect on physicians' adherence to the care suggestions (23% for intervention patients vs 22% for controls). There were no intervention-control differences in quality of life, medication compliance, health care utilization, costs, or satisfaction with care. Physicians viewed guidelines as providing helpful information but constraining their practice and not helpful in making decisions for individual patients.

Conclusions: Care suggestions generated by a sophisticated electronic medical record system failed to improve adherence to accepted practice guidelines or outcomes for patients with heart disease. Future studies must weigh the benefits and costs of different (and perhaps more Draconian) methods of affecting clinician behavior.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Decision Making, Computer-Assisted*
  • Female
  • Guideline Adherence
  • Heart Failure / therapy*
  • Hospital Information Systems
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Medical Records Systems, Computerized
  • Microcomputers
  • Middle Aged
  • Myocardial Ischemia / therapy*
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Poisson Distribution
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic*
  • Primary Health Care
  • Quality Assurance, Health Care*
  • United States
  • United States Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality