Computerised decision support systems in order communication for diagnostic, screening or monitoring test ordering: systematic reviews of the effects and cost-effectiveness of systems

Health Technol Assess. 2010 Oct;14(48):1-227. doi: 10.3310/hta14480.


Background: Order communication systems (OCS) are computer applications used to enter diagnostic and therapeutic patient care orders and to view test results. Many potential benefits of OCS have been identified including improvements in clinician ordering patterns, optimisation of clinical time, and aiding communication processes between clinicians and different departments. Many OCS now include computerised decision support systems (CDSS), which are information systems designed to improve clinical decision-making. CDSS match individual patient characteristics to a computerised knowledge base, and software algorithms generate patient-specific recommendations.

Objectives: To investigate which CDSS in OCS are in use within the UK and the impact of CDSS in OCS for diagnostic, screening or monitoring test ordering compared to OCS without CDSS. To determine what features of CDSS are associated with clinician or patient acceptance of CDSS in OCS and what is known about the cost-effectiveness of CDSS in diagnostic, screening or monitoring test OCS compared to OCS without CDSS.

Data sources: A generic search to identify potentially relevant studies for inclusion was conducted using MEDLINE, EMBASE, Cochrane Controlled Trials Register (CCTR), CINAHL (Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature), DARE (Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects), Health Technology Assessment (HTA) database, IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers) Xplore digital library, NHS Economic Evaluation Database (NHS EED) and EconLit, searched between 1974 and 2009 with a total of 22,109 titles and abstracts screened for inclusion.

Review methods: CDSS for diagnostic, screening and monitoring test ordering OCS in use in the UK were identified through contact with the 24 manufacturers/suppliers currently contracted by the National Project for Information Technology (NpfIT) to provide either national or specialist decision support. A generic search to identify potentially relevant studies for inclusion in the review was conducted on a range of medical, social science and economic databases. The review was undertaken using standard systematic review methods, with studies being screened for inclusion, data extracted and quality assessed by two reviewers. Results were broadly grouped according to the type of CDSS intervention and study design where possible. These were then combined using a narrative synthesis with relevant quantitative results tabulated.

Results: Results of the studies included in review were highly mixed and equivocal, often both within and between studies, but broadly showed a beneficial impact of the use of CDSS in conjunction with OCS over and above OCS alone. Overall, if the findings of both primary and secondary outcomes are taken into account, then CDSS significantly improved practitioner performance in 15 out of 24 studies (62.5%). Only two studies covered the cost-effectiveness of CDSS: a Dutch study reported a mean cost decrease of 3% for blood tests orders (639 euros) in each of the intervention clinics compared with a 2% (208 euros) increase in control clinics in test costs; and a Spanish study reported a significant increase in the cost of laboratory tests from 41.8 euros per patient per annum to 47.2 euros after implementation of the system.

Limitations: The response rate from the survey of manufacturers and suppliers was extremely low at only 17% and much of the feedback was classified as being commercial-in-confidence (CIC). No studies were identified which assessed the features of CDSS that are associated with clinician or patient acceptance of CDSS in OCS in the test ordering process and only limited data was available on the cost-effectiveness of CDSS plus OCS compared with OCS alone and the findings highly specific. Although CDSS appears to have a potentially small positive impact on diagnostic, screening or monitoring test ordering, the majority of studies come from a limited number of institutions in the USA.

Conclusions: If the findings of both primary and secondary outcomes are taken into account then CDSS showed a statistically significant benefit on either process or practitioner performance outcomes in nearly two-thirds of the studies. Furthermore, in four studies that assessed adverse effects of either test cancellation or delay, no significant detrimental effects in terms of additional utilisation of health-care resources or adverse events were observed. We believe the key current need is for a well designed and comprehensive survey, and on the basis of the results of this potentially for evaluation studies in the form of cluster randomised controlled trials or randomised controlled trials which incorporate process, and patient outcomes, as well as full economic evaluations alongside the trials to assess the impact of CDSS in conjunction with OCS versus OCS alone for diagnostic, screening or monitoring test ordering in the NHS. The economic evaluation should incorporate the full costs of potentially developing, testing, and installing the system, including staff training costs.

Study registration: Study registration 61.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Decision Support Systems, Clinical / economics*
  • Decision Support Systems, Clinical / instrumentation
  • Decision Support Systems, Clinical / organization & administration
  • Diagnostic Tests, Routine / economics*
  • Efficiency
  • Efficiency, Organizational
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening / economics*
  • State Medicine
  • United Kingdom