Australian Health Review Australian Health Review Society
Journal of the Australian Healthcare & Hospitals Association
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Going digital: a narrative overview of the clinical and organisational impacts of eHealth technologies in hospital practice

Justin Keasberry A , Ian A. Scott A B D , Clair Sullivan A , Andrew Staib A and Richard Ashby C

A Princess Alexandra Hospital, 199 Ipswich Road, Brisbane, Qld 4102, Australia. Email: justin.keasberry@health.qld.gov.au; clair.sullivan@health.qld.gov.au; andrew.staib@health.qld.gov.au

B Southern School of Medicine, University of Queensland, Translational Research Institute, 199 Ipswich Road, Brisbane, Qld 4102, Australia.

C Metro South Hospital and Health Service, Garden City Park, 2404 Logan Road, Brisbane, Qld 4113, Australia. Email: richard.ashby@health.qld.gov.au

D Corresponding author. Email: ian.scott@health.qld.gov.au

Australian Health Review - http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/AH16233
Submitted: 8 May 2016  Accepted: 4 November 2016   Published online: 9 January 2017

Abstract

Objective The aim of the present study was to determine the effects of hospital-based eHealth technologies on quality, safety and efficiency of care and clinical outcomes.

Methods Systematic reviews and reviews of systematic reviews of eHealth technologies published in PubMed/Medline/Cochrane Library between January 2010 and October 2015 were evaluated. Reviews of implementation issues, non-hospital settings or remote care or patient-focused technologies were excluded from analysis. Methodological quality was assessed using a validated appraisal tool. Outcome measures were benefits and harms relating to electronic medical records (EMRs), computerised physician order entry (CPOE), electronic prescribing (ePrescribing) and computerised decision support systems (CDSS). Results are presented as a narrative overview given marked study heterogeneity.

Results Nineteen systematic reviews and two reviews of systematic reviews were included from 1197 abstracts, nine rated as high quality. For EMR functions, there was moderate-quality evidence of reduced hospitalisations and length of stay and low-quality evidence of improved organisational efficiency, greater accuracy of information and reduced documentation and process turnaround times. For CPOE functions, there was moderate-quality evidence of reductions in turnaround times and resource utilisation. For ePrescribing, there was moderate-quality evidence of substantially fewer medications errors and adverse drug events, greater guideline adherence, improved disease control and decreased dispensing turnaround times. For CDSS, there was moderate-quality evidence of increased use of preventive care and drug interaction reminders and alerts, increased use of diagnostic aids, more appropriate test ordering with fewer tests per patient, greater guideline adherence, improved processes of care and less disease morbidity. There was conflicting evidence regarding effects on in-patient mortality and overall costs. Reported harms were alert fatigue, increased technology interaction time, creation of disruptive workarounds and new prescribing errors.

Conclusion eHealth technologies in hospital settings appear to improve efficiency and appropriateness of care, prescribing safety and disease control. Effects on mortality, readmissions, total costs and patient and provider experience remain uncertain.

What is known about the topic? Healthcare systems internationally are undertaking large-scale digitisation programs with hospitals being a major focus. Although predictive analyses suggest that eHealth technologies have the potential to markedly transform health care delivery, contemporary peer-reviewed research evidence detailing their benefits and harms is limited.

What does this paper add? This narrative overview of 19 systematic reviews and two reviews of systematic reviews published over the past 5 years provides a summary of cumulative evidence of clinical and organisational effects of contemporary eHealth technologies in hospital practice. EMRs have the potential to increase accuracy and completeness of clinical information, reduce documentation time and enhance information transfer and organisational efficiency. CPOE appears to improve laboratory turnaround times and decrease resource utilisation. ePrescribing significantly reduces medication errors and adverse drug events. CDSS, especially those used at the point of care and integrated into workflows, attract the strongest evidence for substantially increasing clinician adherence to guidelines, appropriateness of disease and treatment monitoring and optimal medication use. Evidence of effects of eHealth technologies on discrete clinical outcomes, such as morbid events, mortality and readmissions, is currently limited and conflicting.

What are the implications for practitioners? eHealth technologies confer benefits in improving quality and safety of care with little evidence of major hazards. Whether EMRs and CPOE can affect clinical outcomes or overall costs in the absence of auxiliary support systems, such as ePrescribing and CDSS, remains unclear. eHealth technologies are evolving rapidly and the evidence base used to inform clinician and managerial decisions to invest in these technologies must be updated continually. More rigorous field research using appropriate evaluation methods is needed to better define real-world benefits and harms. Customisation of eHealth applications to the context of patient-centred care and management of highly complex patients with multimorbidity will be an ongoing challenge.


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