Context: Failure to notify patients of test results is common even when electronic health records (EHRs) are used to report results to practitioners. We sought to understand the broad range of social and technical factors that affect test result management in an integrated EHR-based health system.
Methods: Between June and November 2010, we conducted a cross-sectional, web-based survey of all primary care practitioners (PCPs) within the Department of Veterans Affairs nationwide. Survey development was guided by a socio-technical model describing multiple inter-related dimensions of EHR use.
Findings: Of 5001 PCPs invited, 2590 (51.8%) responded. 55.5% believed that the EHRs did not have convenient features for notifying patients of test results. Over a third (37.9%) reported having staff support needed for notifying patients of test results. Many relied on the patient's next visit to notify them for normal (46.1%) and abnormal results (20.1%). Only 45.7% reported receiving adequate training on using the EHR notification system and 35.1% reported having an assigned contact for technical assistance with the EHR; most received help from colleagues (60.4%). A majority (85.6%) stayed after hours or came in on weekends to address notifications; less than a third reported receiving protected time (30.1%). PCPs strongly endorsed several new features to improve test result management, including better tracking and visualization of result notifications.
Conclusions: Despite an advanced EHR, both social and technical challenges exist in ensuring notification of test results to practitioners and patients. Current EHR technology requires significant improvement in order to avoid similar challenges elsewhere.
Keywords: diagnostic errors; electronic health records; health information technology; lack of follow-up; medical errors; missed test results.