Health-record alert system greatly lowered urinary tract infections, study finds

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An updated alert system in electronic health records heavily reduced urinary tract infections acquired in a hospital, according to a new study.

The alerts prompted physicians to see whether patients needed urinary catheters to begin with, and furthermore to reassess if a catheter hadn't been removed. Around 75% of urinary tract infections acquired in a hospital are due to urinary catheters. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says up to 25% of hospitalized patients receive urinary catheters while in the hospital.

Medical and technological experts at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania developed the simplified alert as an update from the "off the shelf" alert found in an EHR. Their alert led to a 15% reduction in catheter use.

“First, electronic alerts do result in fewer catheter-associated urinary tract infections,” said lead author Charles A. Baillie, M.D., an internal medicine specialist and fellow in the Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Penn Medicine. “Second, the design of the alerts is very important. By making the alert quicker and easier to use, we saw a dramatic increase in the number of catheters removed in patients who no longer needed them. Fewer catheters means fewer infections, fewer days in the hospital, and even fewer deaths.”

Results will be published in the September issue of Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology