Background: Current practices of reporting critical laboratory values make it challenging to measure and assess the timeliness of receipt by the treating physician as required by The Joint Commission's 2008 National Patient Safety Goals.
Methods: A multidisciplinary team of laboratorians, clinicians, and information technology experts developed an electronic ALERTS system that reports critical values via the laboratory and hospital information systems to alphanumeric pagers of clinicians and ensures failsafe notification, instant documentation, automatic tracking, escalation, and reporting of critical value alerts. A method for automated acknowledgment of message receipt was incorporated into the system design.
Results: The ALERTS system has been applied to inpatients and eliminated approximately 9000 phone calls a year made by medical technologists. Although a small number of phone calls were still made as a result of pages not acknowledged by clinicians within 10 min, they were made by telephone operators, who either contacted the same physician who was initially paged by the automated system or identified and contacted alternate physicians or the patient's nurse. Overall, documentation of physician acknowledgment of receipt in the electronic medical record increased to 95% of critical values over 9 months, while the median time decreased to <3 min.
Conclusions: We improved laboratory efficiency and physician communication by developing an electronic system for reporting of critical values that is in compliance with The Joint Commission's goals.