5 e-Letters

published between 2020 and 2023

  • Better consistency and quality with the use of CDSS (Clinical Decision Support Systems)

    The authors of this paper describe GP decision-making as ‘good but not good enough’. Their paper also highlights considerable variation among clinicians with the highest referrers being more than two times more likely to refer patients with red flag symptoms for cancer investigation than the lowest referrers. When we consider this wide disparity among individual doctors, we must look at how we can objectively and consistently reduce this. How can we make the diagnostic process in primary care ‘reliable, not heroic’ [1]?

    Previous papers have considered interventions that can reduce the global burden of diagnostic errors in primary care [2], including the use of information technology tools. Perhaps we can consider that better use of technology such as Clinical Decision Support Systems (CDSS) could improve clinical diagnostics especially in those areas with clear guideline-based practice such as in the decision to refer urgently for suspected cancer [3]. These tools can be used to provide appropriate suggestions for differentials at any point in the clinical consultation or offer ‘alerts’ at the end of the consultation if there are important diagnoses that haven’t been considered [4].

    Uptake of CDSS has been poor [5] and clinician response to these tools when they have been implemented are mixed [6] despite them showing that they increase physician’s diagnostic accuracy [7, 8]. At present, clinical work mostly only uses inconsistently implemented ‘alerts’. Some...

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  • Inadequate limitations

    We feel that this article and accompanying press release have failed to fully acknowledge some significant limitations of the study. We feel these limitations are important when making the conclusion that following guidelines by earlier referral would be associated with earlier cancer diagnosis.
    1. There is no recognition that the cancer diagnosed in the year following index consultation may not have any association with the index consultation. For example a non-urgent referral for breast lump who developed bladder carcinoma in the following year would be included as someone who could have benefitted from earlier referral.
    2. There is no attempt to acknowledge screening cancer diagnoses. Again these would be included despite them being unrelated to any previous “red flag” symptoms.
    3. Most significantly, there is no acknowledgement that not “following guidelines” is often an important part of shared decision-making that prevents morbidity related to diagnostic processes and treatment. Although the article explains that co-morbidities and age greater than 85 are associated with lower referral rates; it fails to recognise that any delay in cancer diagnosis in this group would often not be considered a “missed opportunity”,. There is sometimes no clinical benefit to the patient of earlier diagnosis. In relation to this It also fails to recognise that many local 2ww guidelines include severe frailty as an exclusion criteria for an urgent or 2w...

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  • Overuse of diagnostic testing: possible explanations and solutions

    The recent article by Muskens et al "Overuse of diagnostic testing in healthcare: a systematic review" published online on May 10, 2021, admirably describes the prevalence and overuse of low-value diagnostic tests in multiple healthcare settings, but does not offer possible explanations or solutions. Some salient reasons are (1): 1. Physicians do not consider healthcare costs during a diagnostic workup; 2. Malpractice concerns; 3. An excessive fee-for-service mentality--more tests and consultations generate more income; 4. Lack of trust in clinical skills versus high technology testing; 5. Believing that diagnostic workups should eliminate all conceivable etiologies; and 6. Patients may experience greater satisfaction with more testing.

    Underlying these last three possibilities is the failure to appreciate that in science, especially after Darwin, Einstein and Heisenberg, absolute certainty is considered unachievable. Facts and theories, and clinical diagnoses, are now rated on the probability that they are true. A diagnosis is more probable than not, or more probable than another, based on degrees of evidence. Hence recent interest in Bayesianism, which analyses evidence in terms of probability. When determining the efficacy of additional tests, Bayesianism requires a pre-test (a priori) probability estimate of the diagnosis. The more probable a diagnosis is clinically (a priori) and the greater the diagnostician's clinical confidence, the less nec...

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  • Professor Julian Bion

    We thank Professors Marang-van de Mheen and Vincent for their comments [1] on our examination of variations in weekend and weekday admission care quality during the introduction of seven day services in England [2]. Their analysis and logic models demonstrate with admirable simplicity the complexity of these causal pathways.
    One of the pathways which is not highlighted in the literature is how quality of pre-hospital care may impact on the post-admission phase in hospital. Using exploratory data from the 20 hospitals in our data set, we have shown that while in-hospital care quality did not vary between weekend and weekday admissions, and had improved over time, there was a concurrent deterioration in performance indicators related to care in the community preceding hospital admission. Weekend admissions were much less likely to have been referred by family doctors, and more likely to attend hospital by emergency ambulance, to be dependent on others for activities of daily living, and to be candidates for palliative care. These differences became more marked with the passage of time. In a separate single-centre study we have shown that patients admitted at weekends are sicker than those admitted on weekdays [3]. We therefore contend that while there may be opportunities to improve hospital care across all days of the week, the cause for the weekend effect may reside in community healthcare services. As the weekend effect is a global phenomenon [4], policy makers a...

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  • Does CPOE use result in significant decreases to patient harm? A word of caution

    We are writing in response to Abraham et al.’s recent review of systematic reviews (SR) targeting the impact of computerised provider order entry (CPOE) on clinical and safety outcomes [1]. We commend the authors’ inclusion of medication errors and adverse drug events (ADE) among the outcomes assessed. This is particularly timely given the World Health Organisation’s 2017 announcement of the third Global Patient Safety Challenge to motivate actions to reduce medication errors causing actual patient harm by half in five years [2]. Abraham et al. concluded that, based on the evidence reported by three SR of inpatient populations, pooled studies showed significant reduction in ADEs with CPOE use, with considerable variation in the magnitude of relative risk reduction [1]. However, there are significant limitations to the studies on which this conclusion is based, and we believe a more cautious approach should be taken when assessing the current evidence.

    Firstly, as the authors acknowledged, there was variation in the definitions of ADE across the three SR and the 18 studies they included. We agree that these are significant limitations when trying to summarise the impact of CPOE on ADE. To be clear, the included studies assessed preventable ADEs (10 studies) and/or potential ADEs (15 studies), and three studies did not specify the type of ADE. An ADE can be preventable, non-preventable, or potential [3]. A preventable ADE refers to a medication error which reached th...

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