Electronic Triggers to Identify Delays in Follow-Up of Mammography: Harnessing the Power of Big Data in Health Care

J Am Coll Radiol. 2018 Feb;15(2):287-295. doi: 10.1016/j.jacr.2017.10.001. Epub 2017 Nov 1.


Purpose: We previously developed electronic triggers to automatically flag records for patients experiencing potential delays in diagnostic evaluation for certain cancers. Because of the unique clinical, logistic, and legal aspects of mammography, this study was conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of a trigger to flag delayed follow-up on mammography.

Methods: An algorithm was developed to detect delays in follow-up of abnormal mammographic results (>60 days for BI-RADS® 0, 4, and 5 and >7 months for BI-RADS 3) using clinical data in the electronic health record. Flagged records were then manually reviewed to determine the trigger's performance characteristics (positive and negative predictive value, sensitivity, and specificity). The frequency of delays and patient communication related to abnormal results, reasons for lack of follow-up, and whether patients were subsequently diagnosed with breast cancer were also assessed.

Results: Of 365,686 patients seen between January 1, 2010, and May 31, 2015, the trigger identified 2,129 patients with abnormal findings on mammography, of whom it flagged 552 as having delays in follow-up. From these, review of 400 randomly selected records revealed 283 true delays (positive predictive value, 71%; 95% confidence interval, 66%-75%), including 280 records without any documented plan and three patients with plans that were not adhered to. Transcription and reporting inconsistencies were identified in 27% of externally performed mammographic reports. Only 335 records (84%) contained specific documentation that the patient was informed of the abnormal result.

Conclusions: Care delays appear to continue despite federal laws requiring patient notification of mammographic results within 30 days. Clinical application of mammography-related triggers could help detect these delays.

Keywords: Electronic health records; breast cancer; diagnostic delays; health IT; mammography; medical informatics; primary care; triggers.

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Big Data*
  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging*
  • Continuity of Patient Care*
  • Electronic Health Records*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mammography*
  • Medical Informatics Applications*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Reminder Systems*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity