From the Journals

EHR default order slashes unnecessary imaging during palliative RT



Simply adding a default order to the electronic health record that automatically opts patients out of commonly used but unnecessary radiation oncology procedures can dramatically curtail their use, suggests a stepped-wedge, cluster-randomized, controlled trial.

Daily x-ray or CT imaging is often used to better reproducibly position patients during curative radiotherapy, but guidelines consider it unnecessary during palliative radiotherapy because of limited clinical benefit, according to the investigators, led by Sonam Sharma, MD, of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, and the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. “Unnecessary imaging can increase treatment time and expense for patients in distress,” they noted.

The investigators conducted a 2-year trial among 21 radiation oncologists from five practices (one university, four community) in which they added to the EHR a default order that specified no daily imaging during palliative radiation therapy. (Radiation oncologists could select another imaging frequency if they preferred.) The default order was first rolled out in the university practice and subsequently in the community practices.

Study analyses were based on 1,019 adult patients with bone, soft tissue, or brain metastases who received 1,188 courses of palliative three-dimensional conformal radiotherapy during the trial.

Results reported in a JAMA Oncology research letter showed that the proportion of patients receiving daily imaging during their palliative radiotherapy (imaging during 80% or more of treatments) fell from 68.2% during the combined preintervention periods to 32.4% during the combined intervention periods.

After potential confounders were taken into account, implementation of the default order in the EHR was associated with a more than halving of the odds of daily imaging during palliative radiotherapy (adjusted odds ratio, 0.37; P = .003), with an adjusted percentage point reduction of –18.8.

Findings were similar in the university practice alone (aOR, 0.33; P = .01; –22.3 percentage points) and in the community practices alone (aOR, 0.45; P = .02; –27.5 percentage points).

“In a network of five radiation oncology practices, introducing a default order in the EHR reduced unnecessary daily imaging during palliative radiotherapy,” Dr. Sharma and colleagues concluded. “Our findings suggest that simple nudges, such as setting default orders, can meaningfully reduce unnecessary care.”

Dr. Sharma reported that she had no relevant conflicts of interest. The study was funded in part by the National Cancer Institute and the University of Pennsylvania Health System through the Penn Medicine Nudge Unit and the department of radiation oncology.

SOURCE: Sharma S et al. JAMA Oncol. 2019 Jun 27. doi: 10.1001/jamaoncol.2019.1432.

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