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Why are EHR Alerts so Valuable?

Most EHR programs include alerts almost by default. They are part of the standard feature set and one of the earliest tools to be included under Clinical Decision Support (CDS). EHR alerts can be invaluable in reminding doctors and other staff regarding procedures, vaccination schedules and other information which can affect clinical outcomes. However alerts are frequently implemented in such a way that physicians are reluctant to use them.


In extreme cases, interacting with such alerts can be so annoying and time-consuming that many do not read the information presented and just click okay/cancel in order to complete their tasks. If the EHR program frequently pops up an alert at the wrong time or with incorrect information, users will become desensitized and ignore all such pop-ups in the future.


Badly designed alerts have prompted some physicians to disable that particular feature in their EHR, not a good choice when it comes to patient safety or receiving incentives under the meaningful use program. Nevertheless EHR alerts – implemented correctly – have the potential to save lives and reduce healthcare expenses across the board.


This fact has been demonstrated quite clearly by a recent study which showed that EHR alerts are instrumental in reducing the number of urinary tract infections among patients (Study published by University of Pennsylvania, August 2014). It is widely estimated that about 70% of UTIs can be prevented by adopting simple measures such as removing catheters that are no longer necessary. The first phase of the study showed that alerts were responsible for reducing urinary infections to .70 per 1000 patient days from the previous .84/1000. In the second phase, the EHR alerts were redesigned and simplified to require fewer clicks than before. This effort further brought down the rate of infections to .5 per thousand patient days.


This study highlights two important aspects of EHR alerts. One is that the alerts by themselves are capable of directly influencing health outcomes in the form of reduced infections. The second – and perhaps more relevant – finding is that well-designed alerts can reduce the infection rate even further. Alerts that require fewer mouse clicks, do not interrupt the user and present relevant information clearly are more likely to be acted upon. As far as possible, the user should be able to act on an alert in less than 3 clicks and the action should not take more than a few seconds to accomplish.


Dovetail dental software is a mobile and cloud-based electronic record and practice management solution that was designed in collaboration with dentists. Dovetail’s Meaningful Use Edition’s alerts ensure that they do not interrupt your workflow.