Reports From the Field

Use of an Electronic Alert Tool to Prevent Readmissions Following Coronary Artery Bypass Graft Surgery



From the University of North Carolina at Wilmington School of Nursing (Dr. Smith and Dr. Turrise), the New Hanover Regional Medical Center Heart Center (Mr. Jordan), the Coastal Carolinas Health Alliance and Coastal Connect Health Information Exchange (Ms. Robertson), and Coastal Thoracic Surgical Associates (Dr. Kane), Wilmington, NC.


Objective: Cardiothoracic (CT) surgeons at our medical center were not receiving timely notification when their coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery patients were admitted to the medical center or to other hospitals. The CT surgical team worked with a health alliance in southeastern North Carolina to implement health information exchange (HIE) real-time electronic notifications for their CABG patients who presented to the hospital’s emergency department (ED) or any ED affiliated with the medical center. The alert tool notifies team members about patient encounters, driving timely clinical engagement.

Methods: The CT team provided the HIE team with the names of CABG surgery patients, which were loaded into the alert tool. When a patient on the list presented to the hospital ED or its affiliates, the alert tool sent a real-time electronic notification to the Cardiac Surgical Services nurse coordinator. This intervention prompted the assessment and disposition of CABG patients, while in the ED, by the CT surgical team.

Results: Over a 16-month period (September 2017-December 2018), the names of 614 post-CABG patients were input into the HIE for tracking. Of these patients, 47 were treated and discharged from the ED; 31 were admitted for observation; 44 were readmitted for inpatient care; and 492 did not have a qualifying event requiring a notification alert. Following implementation of this practice change, the 30-day readmission rate for patients who underwent CABG at our institution decreased from 10% to 7.2%.

Conclusion: Utilizing a real-time alert tool resulted in immediate notification of the CT team when 1 of their patients presented to the ED. This afforded the CT surgical team an opportunity to intervene in the care of their patients, which in turn led to improved quality of care, physician communication and collaboration, and patient outcomes, such as preventable 30-day readmissions.

Keywords: electronic health record; real-time electronic notification; CABG; process improvement.

Unplanned 30-day hospital readmissions of patients who have undergone coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery contribute to higher overall health care costs. CABG is 1 of the conditions/procedures that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) monitors for excess readmissions.1 Readmission rates for CABG-related conditions at 30 days post-surgery are reported to be between 16% and 20% for US hospitals.2 Readmissions are not only financially costly, but also have been associated with worse patient outcomes and decreased patient satisfaction.3 Common diagnoses for post-CABG admission include atrial fibrillation, pleural effusion, and wound infection.

The facility where this project was implemented had a 10% post-CABG admission rate for patients across all payers. While this rate is below the national average of 13.2%, the cardiothoracic (CT) surgical team was not being notified in a timely manner when their post-CABG patients were readmitted. The Lean team used the A3 problem-solving process to develop strategies that would reduce these readmissions and improve the care of their patients.

We explored the use of electronic alerts in managing post-CABG patients by conducting a literature search using the terms electronic alerts in patient care, patient engagement in the emergency department, electronic alerts in CABG, real-time notifications to prevent readmission, and CABG readmission. Databases searched were PubMed, Google Scholar, Cumulative Index of Nursing and Allied Health Literature, ProQuest, and ScienceDirect. This search resulted in studies focused on the use of electronic health record (EHR) alerts as a clinical decision-support tool; for example, patient demographic and assessment data are entered into the EHR, and the clinician is prompted with “performance” recommendations (eg, consider electrocardiogram and aspirin).4 In a paper by Engelman and Benjamin,5 the authors discuss the importance of the engaged physician and note that, in their emergency department (ED), an electronic notification is sent when a postoperative patient presents; however, the notification goes to the inpatient service for timely review and disposition. There was no literature that discussed the use of an electronic alert tool as a real-time patient engagement strategy that resulted in a practice change specific to the CT surgical team.

Our process improvement project focused on alerting the CT surgical team when a post-CABG patient presented to the ED, allowing them to evaluate the patient in real time and determine whether the chief complaint was related to the CABG and whether further evaluation by the CT surgeon was required. Specifically, we wanted to determine whether a real-time electronic alert that notified the CT surgical team about post-op CABG patients presenting to the ED would result in timely patient engagement, avoidance of readmissions, and an enhanced patient experience. During this project, alerts were sent to the CT surgical team notifying them of a post-CABG patient presenting to the ED or being directly admitted from home on physician orders, a provider’s office, or inpatient rehabilitation; however, the focus of this article is specifically on the notification regarding post-CABG patients presenting to the ED.

Prior to implementing the electronic notification project, the team developed and implemented several internal and external readmission reduction and prevention strategies for CABG patients. An in-house strategy involved a process whereby patients would receive their discharge medications prior to being discharged from the hospital post-CABG, thereby avoiding potential delays in the patient obtaining medications. When examining post-CABG patient readmissions, the primary conditions that led to readmission were fluid overload, pleural effusion, and atrial fibrillation. As such, a second in-house strategy was developed for post-CABG patients presenting to the ED with atrial fibrillation. The newly established protocol allowed patients to be monitored and treated in the cardiac observation unit. In addition, external strategies, including an outpatient furosemide protocol for home health nurses and an outpatient thoracentesis program and order set, were established (eg, for patients with congestive heart failure, shortness of breath).


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