Aims: To identify factors contributing to laboratory overutilisation in an academic medical department, and to assess the effect of an educational feedback strategy on inappropriate test-ordering behaviour.
Methods: The records of 426 patients admitted during a 6-month period were reviewed. The usefulness of 25 investigations (haematology, basic biochemistry and arterial blood gases) was assessed according to implicit criteria. Trainees’ acquaintance with investigation costs was assessed via a multiple-choice questionnaire. The medical staff was informed about their test-ordering behaviour, cost awareness and the factors associated with overuse of diagnostic tests. The test-ordering behaviour of the same doctors was reassessed on 214 patients managed during 6 months after the intervention.
Results: Overall, 24 482 laboratory tests were ordered before the intervention (mean 2.96 tests/patient/day). Among those, 67.9% were not considered to have contributed towards management of patients (mean avoidable 2.01 tests/patient/day). Patient age ⩾65 years, hospitalisation beyond 7 days and increased case difficulty (death or inability to establish a diagnosis) were factors independently associated with overuse of laboratory tests. Senior trainees ordered more laboratory examinations, but the percentage of avoidable tests requested by junior trainees was higher. A moderate and disparate level of trainees’ awareness about the cost of common laboratory examinations was disclosed. The avoidable tests/patient/day were significantly decreased after the intervention (mean 1.58, p = 0.002), but containment of unnecessary ordering of tests gradually waned during the semester after the intervention.
Conclusion: Repeated audit, continuous education and alertness of doctors, on the basis of assessment of factors contributing to laboratory overutilisation, result in restraining the redundant ordering of tests in the hospital setting.
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Competing interests: None.
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