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The effectiveness of interruptive prescribing alerts in ambulatory CPOE to change prescriber behaviour & improve safety


Background Prescribing alerts of an electronic health record are meant to be protective, but often are disruptive to providers. Our goal was to assess the effectiveness of interruptive medication-prescriber alerts in changing prescriber behaviour and improving patient outcomes in ambulatory care settings via computerised provider order entry (CPOE) systems.

Methods A standardised search strategy was developed and applied to the following key bibliographical databases: PubMed, Embase, CINAHL and The Cochrane Library. Non-comparison studies and studies on non-interrupted alerts were eliminated. We developed a standardised data collection form and abstracted data that included setting, study design, category of intervention alert and outcomes measured. The search was completed in August 2018 and repeated in November of 2019 and of 2020 to identify any new publications during the time lapse.

Results Ultimately, nine comparison studies of triggered alerts were identified. Each studied at least one outcome measure illustrating how the alert affected prescriber decision-making. Provider behaviour was influenced in the majority, with most noting a positive change. Alerts decreased pharmaceutical costs, moved medications toward preferred medications tiers and steered treatments toward evidence-based choices. They also decreased prescribing errors. Clinician feedback, rarely solicited, expressed frustration with alerts creating a time delay.

Conclusion The current evidence shows a clear indication that many categories of alerts are effective in changing prescriber behaviour. However, it is unclear whether these behavioural changes lead to improved patient outcomes. Despite the rapid transition to CPOE use for patient care, there are few rigorous studies of triggered alerts and how workflow interruptions impact patient outcomes and provider acceptance.

  • ambulatory care
  • healthcare quality improvement
  • information technology
  • interruptions
  • medication safety

Data availability statement

All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as supplemental information.

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