Changes In Electronic Health Records (EHR) To Guide Clinicians In C. diff. Diagnostic Stewardship – To Pause Testing When Not Clinically Indicated

An intervention that required administrative approval of all Clostridioides difficile testing after

hospital day 3 out-performed electronic health record-based support in reducing

C. difficile testing, according to a study.

“We made a series of changes in the electronic health records (EHRs) that we hoped would discourage clinicians from ordering C. difficile tests when testing was not clinically indicated, such as when patients with diarrhea had a more likely explanation such as recent laxative use, or when testing was ordered on patients who were not having diarrhea or other symptoms of C. difficile infection at all,” Lewis said. “In addition, one hospital in our system independently implemented a physician ‘gatekeeper’ to approve all C. difficile test orders for admitted patients.”

“We performed this work as part of a larger quality improvement initiative with the goal of improving the accuracy of diagnosis of C. difficile infection in order to improve quality of care for patients and decrease our health system’s publicly reported rates of C. difficile,” Sarah S. Lewis, MD, MPH, associate professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at Duke University Medical Center, told Healio.

“We made a series of changes in the electronic health records (EHRs) that we hoped would discourage clinicians from ordering C. difficile tests when testing was not clinically indicated, such as when patients with diarrhea had a more likely explanation such as recent laxative use, or when testing was ordered on patients who were not having diarrhea or other symptoms of
C. difficile infection at all,” Lewis said. “In addition, one hospital in our system independently implemented a physician ‘gatekeeper’ to approve all C. difficile test orders for admitted patients.”

Lewis and colleagues tested the three EHR-based interventions at three hospitals. The first intervention, initiated in January 2018, alerted clinicians ordering a test if laxatives were administered within 24 hours. The second, initiated in October 2018, canceled test orders after 24 hours. Implemented in July 2019, he third intervention involved “contextual rule-driven order questions” that required justification when laxatives were administered or there was a lack of EHR documentation of diarrhea. In February 2019, one of the three hospitals then implemented the “gatekeeper intervention” requiring approval for all C. difficile tests after 3 days in the hospital.

Sarah S. Lewis

Lewis and colleagues estimated the impact of the interventions on C. difficile testing and hospital-onset C. difficile infection (HO-CDI) using an interrupted time-series analysis. They found that C. difficile testing was already declining in the preintervention period (annual change in incidence rate [IR] = 0.79; 95% CI, 0.72-0.87) and did not decrease further with the EHR interventions.

The study demonstrated, however, that the laxative alert was temporally associated with a trend reduction in HO-CDI (annual change in IR from baseline = 0.85; 95% CI, 0.75-0.96) at two hospitals. Meanwhile, the gatekeeper intervention at the third hospital was associated with level (incidence rate ratio [IRR[ = 0.5; 95% CI, 0.42-0.6) and trend reductions in C. difficile testing (annual change in IR = 0.91; 95% CI, 0.85-0.98) and level (IRR = 0.42; 95% CI, 0.22-0.81) and trend reductions in HO-CDI (annual change in IR = 0.68; 95% CI, 0.5–0.92) relative to the baseline period, the researchers reported.

“Diagnostic stewardship, or the appropriate utilization of diagnostic tests, is important for improving quality of care. Electronic decision support in the form of alerts or background logic to reinforce the desired provider behavior is attractive because it is relatively low resource, easy to implement, and can be programmed in a way that is relatively unobtrusive to the clinical workflow,” Lewis said. “However, as we and others have seen, decision support often needs to be coupled with both provider education and some form of administrative restriction to achieve desired goals.”

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