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Focus On: Reduction in Radiation Risk and Electronic Medical Records

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Alerts through the electronic medical records system help physicians re-evalute need for CT scan

At Banner Health, 16.7 percent of CT scans ordered for a specific group of patients have been cancelled by the ordering physicians because the scan has been deemed as unnecessary. Banner Health is using enhanced electronic medical records (EMR) system to provide physicians with a detailed, real-time alert every time a CT scan is ordered for a patient who has received three previous scans within 90 days prior to the order.

CT scans produce exquisitely detailed images of the human body and are a powerful tool that’s commonly used in hospitals and clinics to successfully diagnose disease. However, CT scans also expose people to very high levels of radiation, especially to people who receive multiple CT scans in a short period of time.

Numerous clinical studies have made front-page headlines by confirming that there is danger in over-radiation from CT scans. Most recently, the danger of radiation was understood around the world as a result of the tragic tsunami in Japan that severely damaged a nuclear power plant on that country’s coast.

“While there can be no doubt that CT scans are an essential diagnostic tool for physicians, our ability to provide them with this information through the alert helps them make the best decision on behalf of their patients,” said Banner Health’s Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer John Hensing, M.D.

Without the EMR and its monitoring and alert capabilities, physicians at Banner would need to rely on paper-based records in files where information is often difficult to find or obscured. Most hospitals in the nation remain heavily reliant on paper-based records or do not have an EMR system that is designed to provide monitoring and alert capabilties.

In a six-month period since instituting this customized clinical alert in Banner’s EMR system at the beginning of March, 2011, physicians at Banner ordered 4,825 CT scans for patients who had received three previous scans within 90 days. As a result of the alert that notified physicians about the three previous scans, 798 CT scan orders were cancelled.

“This novel use of our EMR system not only is producing outstanding results that are improving the safety of our patient care, but is saving important health care costs, as well,” Hensing added. It is estimated that more than $2 million in charges to patients were avoided during the six-month period.

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