Background: Computerized physician order entry (CPOE) systems are quickly becoming ubiquitous, and groups of orders ("order sets") to allow for easy order input are a common feature. This provides a streamlined mechanism to view, modify, and place groups of related orders. This often serves as an electronic equivalent of a specialty requisition. A characteristic, of these order sets is that specific orders can be predetermined to be "preselected" or "defaulted-on" whenever the order set is used while others are "optional" or "defaulted-off" (though there is typically the option is to "deselect" defaulted-on tests in a given situation). While it seems intuitive that the defaults in an order set are often accepted, additional study is required to understand the impact of these "default" settings in an order set on ordering habits. This study set out to quantify the effect of changing the default settings of an order set.
Methods: For quality improvement purposes, order sets dealing with transfusions were recently reviewed and modified to improve monitoring of outcome. Initially, the order for posttransfusion hematocrits and platelet count had the default setting changed from "optional" to "preselected." The default settings for platelet count was later changed back to "optional," allowing for a natural experiment to study the effect of the default selections of an order set on clinician ordering habits.
Results: Posttransfusion hematocrit values were ordered for 8.3% of red cell transfusions when the default order set selection was "off" and for 57.4% of transfusions when the default selection was "preselected" (P < 0.0001). Posttransfusion platelet counts were ordered for 7.0% of platelet transfusions when the initial default order set selection was "optional," increased to 59.4% when the default was changed to "preselected" (P < 0.0001), and then decreased to 7.5% when the default selection was returned to "optional." The posttransfusion platelet count rates during the two "optional" periods: 7.0% versus 7.5% - were not statistically different (P = 0.620).
Discussion: Default settings in CPOE order sets can significantly influence physician selection of laboratory tests. Careful consideration by all stakeholders, including clinicians and pathologists, should be obtained when establishing default settings in order sets.
Keywords: Default settings; order sets; test utilization.