The implementation, use and sustainability of a clinical decision support system for medication optimisation in primary care: A qualitative evaluation

PLoS One. 2021 May 3;16(5):e0250946. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0250946. eCollection 2021.


Background: The quality and safety of prescribing in general practice is important, Clinical decision support (CDS) systems can be used which present alerts to health professionals when prescribing in order to identify patients at risk of potentially hazardous prescribing. It is known that such computerised alerts may improve the safety of prescribing in hospitals but their implementation and sustainable use in general practice is less well understood. We aimed to understand the factors that influenced the successful implementation and sustained use in primary care of a CDS system.

Methods: Participants were purposively recruited from Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) and general practices in the North West and East Midlands regions of England and from the CDS developers. We conducted face-to-face and telephone-based semi-structured qualitative interviews with staff stakeholders. A selection of participants was interviewed longitudinally to explore the further sustainability 1-2 years after implementation of the CDS system. The analysis, informed by Normalisation Process Theory (NPT), was thematic, iterative and conducted alongside data collection.

Results: Thirty-nine interviews were conducted either individually or in groups, with 33 stakeholders, including 11 follow-up interviews. Eight themes were interpreted in alignment with the four NPT constructs: Coherence (The purpose of the CDS: Enhancing medication safety and improving cost effectiveness; Relationship of users to the technology; Engagement and communication between different stakeholders); Cognitive Participation (Management of the profile of alerts); Collective Action (Prescribing in general practice, patient and population characteristics and engagement with patients; Knowledge);and Reflexive Monitoring (Sustaining the use of the CDS through maintenance and customisation; Learning and behaviour change. Participants saw that the CDS could have a role in enhancing medication safety and in the quality of care. Engagement through communication and support for local primary care providers and management leaders was considered important for successful implementation. Management of prescribing alert profiles for general practices was a dynamic process evolving over time. At regional management levels, work was required to adapt, and modify the system to optimise its use in practice and fulfil local priorities. Contextual factors, including patient and population characteristics, could impact upon the decision-making processes of prescribers influencing the response to alerts. The CDS could operate as a knowledge base allowing prescribers access to evidence-based information that they otherwise would not have.

Conclusions: This qualitative evaluation utilised NPT to understand the implementation, use and sustainability of a widely deployed CDS system offering prescribing alerts in general practice. The system was understood as having a role in medication safety in providing relevant patient specific information to prescribers in a timely manner. Engagement between stakeholders was considered important for the intervention in ensuring prescribers continued to utilise its functionality. Sustained implementation might be enhanced by careful profile management of the suite of alerts in the system. Our findings suggest that the use and sustainability of the CDS was related to prescribers' perceptions of the relevance of alerts. Shared understanding of the purpose of the CDS between CCGS and general practices particularly in balancing cost saving and safety messages could be beneficial.

Grant support

This study was part of the NIHR PROTECT Programme grant. PRoTeCT is funded by the NIHR Programme Grants for Applied Research Programme (1214-20012). The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.