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Data helps to improve physician legibility
At most hospitals, the vast majority of physician orders are still written by hand. That means a lot of hurried squiggles that no one can decipher, and time-wasting phone calls to clarify the order, not to mention the threat to patient safety.
But St. Rita's Medical Center in Lima, OH, found that if you have the data to prove which doctors have the worst handwriting, you can cut the clarification phone calls by 40%.
A recent report found that only 14% of all U.S. hospitals are entering at least 10% of orders electronically the level of computerized physician order entry required to reach the federal government's proposed standard for Stage 1 of meaningful use.
The legibility of these orders can be a problem that is more pervasive and more of a threat to patient safety than most hospitals realize, says Herbert Schumm, MD, St. Rita's vice president of medical affairs.
According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, poor penmanship is responsible for an estimated 6% of all hospital medication errors.
To address this issue, St. Rita's used its communication and analytics system to document and measure incidents of illegible handwriting. For defined periods of time, the phone system prompted callers to indicate when they were calling to clarify an illegible order. The system captured data on where the order was received and who wrote it.
The system then compiled this information into reports for the Patient Safety Steering Committee.
"We sat down with about four or five doctors and showed them the number of calls that were made to clarify their orders," Schumm says. "We also reminded them to use pre-printed order sets whenever possible, and we explained that if they work on legibility, they can cut down on the calls they're getting for clarification. Everyone wants fewer calls."
The analysis showed that, during the first three months of the study, an average of more than 80 calls per week were made to clarify orders. On two subsequent analyses, after discussions with some of the doctors, the average was only 53, a drop of more than 40%.