Objectives: To identify patterns of use of computerized clinical reminders (CCRs) across an integrated healthcare system and describe institutional factors associated with their implementation.
Study Design: Cross-sectional study.
Methods: At a national electronic health record (EHR) meeting, we surveyed 261 participants from 104 Veterans Health Administration (VHA) healthcare facilities regarding the number and types of CCRs available at each facility. Potential explanatory measures included perceived utility and ease of use of CCRs, training and personnel support for computer use, EHR functionalities, and performance data feedback to providers at each facility.
Results: The number of conditions with CCRs in use at a facility ranged from 1 to 15; most reported implementation of reminders for 10 of the 15 conditions surveyed. The most commonly implemented CCRs, used in more than 85% of facilities, were for conditions with VHA national performance measures (eg, tobacco cessation, immunizations, diabetes mellitus). The least commonly implemented CCRs were for post-deployment health evaluation and management, medically unexplained symptoms, and erectile dysfunction. Facilities that had implemented greater numbers of clinical reminders had providers who reported greater ease of use and utility of the reminders (P = .01).
Conclusions: VHA facilities vary markedly in their implementation of CCRs. This effect may be partly explained by greater incorporation of clinical reminders for conditions with performance measures. Further study is needed to determine how to best implement clinical reminders and the institutional factors important in their use.
(Am J Manag Care. 2004;10(part 2):878-885)
Computerized clinical reminders (CCRs) have
been widely publicized as potential tools for
changing behavior1 and improving quality of
care.2-4 They have been particularly effective in improving
adherence with preventive care and screening
guidelines,2,5 monitoring diabetes,6 and treating hypertension.7
However, factors such as workload, time, and
perceived reduction of the quality of the provider-patient
interaction may be barriers to effective use of
The Veterans Health Administration (VHA), the
United States' largest integrated healthcare delivery system,
has invested heavily in the informatics infrastructure
necessary to support CCRs. It has been on the
forefront of developing these tools and incorporating
them into the computerized patient record system
(CPRS), which is the VHA's electronic health record
(EHR). The VHA developed CPRS, an application used
throughout VHA facilities that enables clinicians to
review and analyze patient data and supports clinical
Computerized clinical reminders may be developed
and distributed at the national, regional, or local level.
Although VHA mandates use of a few clinical reminders
such as assessing hepatitis C risk and possible sexual
trauma during military service, most CCRs have been
locally initiated.10 After reminders are created, they are
tested and activated. Some reminders are applicable to
all patients, while others apply to a particular group of
patients. VHA facilities can generate clinical reminder
reports, which provide information, for example, about
the number of patients in a clinic with completed clinical
reminders and the number of patients eligible for the
Although CCR technology is in widespread use in
VHA, data regarding CCR patterns of use in VHA and
institutional factors associated with their use have not
been available. A description of the different types of
reminders implemented in VHA may help other large
organizations interested in promoting this technology.
Identifying factors influencing widespread implementation
of CCRs is a necessary step to promote their dissemination.
Hence, our primary objective was to survey
VHA facilities for variations in the numbers and types
of CCRs used across VHA facilities nationally. Our
secondary objective was to identify institutional factors
associated with increased implementation of CCR
Study Population and Data
We assessed CCR use across the VHA by distributing
a survey instrument to participants at the national
Camp CPRS meeting that took place in Georgia in May
2003. This meeting focused on the VHA's EHR and in
2003, included 1304 representatives from 136 of the
142 VHA medical facilities participating in the VHA's
External Peer Review Program (EPRP). The representatives,
who are nominated by their facilities, may be clinical
staff (eg, physician, nurses, others), administrative
personnel (eg, chief of staff), or informatics experts.
Many attendees are opinion leaders at their facility and
have extensive experience with local CPRS capabilities,
either as users or developers of clinical applications for
the EHR and its decision support tools.
We received responses from 261 participants (20%)
representing 104 VHA facilities (76%). Nonrespondents
were not tracked because only those who volunteered
were given the survey instrument. Sixty-five of the 104
facilities that responded to our survey had more than
The American Hospital Association database provided
additional background information about VHA
facilities. It provided information about geographic
distribution of participating facilities, teaching status
affiliation, and size of the facilities.
After discussion with the VHA staff that oversee,
develop, or perform research on clinical reminders,
including members of the National Clinical Practice
Guideline Council and members of its ad hoc Clinical
Reminders Committee, we chose to evaluate facilities'
use of 15 different types of CCRs. We selected reminders
that represent a broad range of conditions clinicians
might encounter in various clinic settings. Some
reminders were for conditions that have VHA national
performance measures (eg, addressing tobacco cessation),
whereas others (eg, low back pain) were for conditions
without VHA national performance measures.
The remainder of the 77 items in the survey instrument
focused on institutional factors hypothesized from
our ongoing studies to be important in implementation
of clinical guidelines11 or CCRs. The instrument
assessed different forms of computer use (provider education,
performance feedback, and clinical support such
as the ability to retrieve radiological images), perceived
utility and ease of use of CCRs, adequacy of computer
training and CCR training, organizational support, hospital
culture/climate, and availability of feedback mechanisms
for modifying CCRs. Responses for this portion
of the survey instrument were either dichotomous (yes
or no) or measured on a 5-point Likert-type scale.
Respondents who answered "don't know" were recoded
as "missing" or "no." The questionnaire is available,
upon request, from Dr. Doebbeling.
The University of Iowa/Iowa City VA institutional
review boards approved the study protocol. The data
management plan underwent subsequent review and
approval from the institutional review board of the VA
Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System.
Outcome measures were obtained from questionnaire
responses. For these measures, we aggregated
individual responses at the facility level. Although 39
facilities (37.5%) had only a single respondent, the other
facilities had multiple respondents, including 29 facilities
with 2 respondents, 23 with 3 respondents, 6 with
4 respondents, 1 with 5 respondents, 3 with 6 respondents,
and 3 with 10 or more respondents. When more
than 1 response per facility was available, we used mean
scores for questions that had Likert-like response
scales. For dichotomous variables, we assumed that
respondents from any given facility, while knowledgeable
about their home facility, would be unlikely to
report seeing or using a clinical reminder that they have
never seen or used. In contrast, it is possible that they
may not have seen or used a clinical reminder that was
available at their facility, but a colleague at their facility
may have reported seeing or using the clinical
reminder. Because our goal was to determine whether a
clinical reminder exists or not at a given facility, we
weighted "yes" responses more than "no" responses.
We reasoned that the union rather than intersection of
positive responses would more accurately reflect, for
example, the actual number of conditions with clinical
reminders in place at a particular facility. Therefore, we
treated any positive answer among respondents at the
facility as a true-positive facility response. For example,
if there were 3 responses and 2 stated that CPRS was
used for requesting consults and 1 did not (or vice
versa), the facility score was based on a "yes" answer.
In a sensitivity analysis, we weighted negative responses
more heavily than positive responses.
The first outcome measure represents which CCRs
were available at the facility. The second outcome measure,
a "facility clinical reminder score" (minimum possible
score = 0, maximum possible score = 15), was
created by summing "yes" responses to questions surveying
whether a facility had at least 1 clinical reminder
for a particular health condition. This variable represented
the level of implementation of CCR technology in
VHA facilities. Although some conditions, such as diabetes,
may have more than 1 clinical reminder (eg, glycosylated
hemoglobin, microalbumin/creatinine ratio),
we counted each condition only once in our facility clinical
reminder score. We used t tests to determine
whether responses to each question differed significantly
for facilities with complete versus incomplete responses.
There were 72 facilities with complete data and 32
facilities with incomplete data (missing data or "don't
know" response) for the questions used to construct the
facility clinical reminder score. The mean facility clinical
reminder score was 9.1 (95% confidence interval
[CI]: 8.6, 9.7) for facilities with complete responses versus
7.4 (95% CI: 6.3, 8.5) for those with incomplete
responses (a difference of 1.7; 95% CI: 0.7, 2.8). Table 1
presents comparison data for VHA facilities that participated
in Camp CPRS and had respondents to the survey
versus VHA facilities that did not participate in Camp
CPRS or did not have respondents to the survey. Facilities
with complete and incomplete responses were similar
with respect to number of acute-care beds, trainee and
resident full-time equivalents, academic affiliation, and
urban versus rural location (P > .05 for all comparisons).
Potential Explanatory Measures