Original Research

Advancing Order Set Design

Order set design using evidence-based medicine, quality improvement techniques, and standardization increases the likelihood of provider order set adherence and potentially better patient outcomes.

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In the current health care environment, hospitals are constantly challenged to improve quality metrics and deliver better health care outcomes. One means to achieving quality improvement is through the use of order sets, groups of related orders that a health care provider (HCP) can place with either a few keystrokes or mouse clicks.1

Historically, design of order sets has largely focused on clicking checkboxes containing evidence-based practices. According to Bates and colleagues and the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, incorporating evidence-based medicine (EBM) into order sets is not by itself sufficient.2,3Execution of proper design coupled with simplicity and provider efficiency is paramount to HCP buy-in, increased likelihood of order set adherence, and to potentially better outcomes.

In this article, we outline advancements in order set design. These improvements increase provider efficiency and ease of use; incorporate human factors engineering (HFE); apply failure mode and effects analysis; and include EBM.


An inpatient nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) order was developed as part of a multifaceted solution to improve tobacco cessation care at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital (JAHVH) in Tampa, Florida, a complexity level 1a facility. This NRT order set used the 4-step order set design framework the authors’ developed (for additional information about the NRT order set, contact the authors). We distinguish order set design technique between 2 different inpatient NRT order sets. The first order set in the comparison (Figure 1) is an inpatient NRT order set of unknown origin—it is common for US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical facilities to share order sets and other resources. The second order set (Figure 2) is an inpatient NRT order set we designed using our 4-step process for comparison in this article. No institutional review board approval was required as this work met criteria for operational improvement activities exempt from ethics review.

Justin Iannello, DO, MBA, was the team leader and developer of the 4-step order set design technique. The intervention team consisted of 4 internal medicine physicians with expertise in quality improvement and patient safety: 1 certified professional in patient safety and certified as a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt; 2 physicians certified as Lean Six Sigma Black Belts; and 1 physician certified as a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt. Two inpatient clinical pharmacists and 1 quality management specialist also were involved in its development.

Development of a new NRT order set was felt to be an integral part of the tobacco cessation care delivery process. An NRT order set perceived by users as value-added required a solution that merged EBM with standardization and applied quality improvement principles. The result was an approach to order set design that focused on 4 key questions: Is the order set efficient and easy to use/navigate? Is human factors engineering incorporated? Is failure mode and effects analysis applied? Are evidence-based practices included?

Ease of Use and Navigation

Implementing an order set that is efficient and easy to use or navigate seems straightforward but can be difficult to execute. Figure 1 shows many detailed options consisting of different combinations of nicotine patches, lozenges, and gum. Also included are oral tobacco cessation options (bupropion and varenicline). Although more options may seem better, confusion about appropriate medication selection can occur.


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