Electronic medical test results have turned out to be much like email: doctors receive a large volume of them, therefore some get lost by the wayside.

The new finding came from a study conducted by a group of researchers at the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Houston and was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The investigators issued a survey of 2,590 primary care practitioners and found that a third of them admitted to missing alerts about test results from an electronic health record notification system – made specifically to inform them when a patient has unusual test results.

The doctors reported getting approximately 63 alerts each day, which could be creating notification overload, resulting in a significant number of results that require doctors’ attention to go unnoticed.

Nearly 87 percent of the doctors said the number of alerts they received was too high. While 69.6 percent said they were receiving more alerts than they could effectively keep track of.

An estimated 55.6 percent commented that the method in which electronic health records notify practitioners makes it possible for them to accidentally skip over important test results.

This is not how the electronic health records system is supposed to be. The aim of iPads replacing folders and health care systems using text messaging to track diseases, should make medical care easier to monitor and more accessible for all parties involved.

The doctors believe that the current system makes them susceptible to information overload.

Even other aspects of electronic medical records have yielded disappointing results for healthcare professionals and authorities. A report just last month revealed that the systems are not well integrated or user-friendly.

Study author Dr. Hardeep Singh of the DeBakey VA Medical Center said:

“If you’re getting 100 emails a day, you are bound to miss a few. I study this area and I still sometimes miss emails. We have good intentions, but sometimes getting too many can be a problem.”

However, they note this could be a small price to pay for the greater advantages of digitizing medical files and results, allowing doctors to stay up-to-date with their workload.

Singh and his colleagues have previously documented eight aspects of the electronic health care system that could be improved.

For example: creating simpler ways for doctors to access the information and correctly training personnel to use the systems effectively could help.

Singh said, “We all want the alerts to look like our smartphones and apple products, but the interface is not always clear and you can miss results quite easily.”

There needs to be an established system to determine who is responsible for taking action when tests results appear that require immediate attention.

This would avoid missing crucial opportunities for helping patients – similar to when an email is sent to several recipients and they all assume someone else will respond.

Putting into place more detailed and stricter policies regarding how these responses should occur can eliminate confusion.

Singh also points out that patients have a responsibility to follow-up and be active in their care.

He concludes:

“We need to dispel the myth of ‘no news is good news from the doctor. In fact, if patients don’t hear back about the results, they should actively seek them out.”

Written by Kelly Fitzgerald