Medical alerts are designed to clue in health care providers to a patient’s allergies and potentially lethal reactions to certain drugs, particularly in emergency situations. But a new study has found some doctors, nurses and pharmacists may miss or even ignore the warnings, particularly if a patient’s alert list is lengthy.
The phenomenon, known as “alert fatigue," was found to be common in a study of 30 health care providers’ responses to 320 medication alerts generated by an electronic medical record system.
Researchers who conducted the study, published in the International Journal of Medical Informatics, said their findings should lead to improvements in the design of medication alerts to reduce the likelihood that providers will become desensitized and may start ignoring some important warnings.
For the study, investigators with Regenstrief Institute and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs tracked how health providers responded to medial alerts for 146 patients in a variety of outpatient clinics. They found that health care workers were sometimes unsure why an alert was appearing or ignored the information when it was overly detailed or part of a long list of concerns.
They warned that as more health care facilities replace paper patient files with electronic medical records systems, the problems may increase.
“Too many alerts and overly detailed alerts are a common source of frustration across electronic medical record systems,” said lead researcher Alissa Russ, a pharmacy specialist at Purdue University. “Unless we improve medication alerts so they contain information that users need to make decisions, the problem of alert fatigue will grow as EMR systems expand beyond single hospitals and share more data.”
The researchers suggested more research may help determine the best way to streamline medical alert systems so they provide the most useful information to health providers.