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Sustained reductions in emergency department laboratory test orders: impact of a simple intervention


Objectives To determine whether a pathology request form allowing interns and residents to order only a limited range of laboratory blood tests prior to consultation with a registrar or consultant can reduce test ordering in an emergency department (ED).

Methods A prospective before-and-after study in an adult tertiary-referral teaching hospital ED was conducted. A pathology request form with a limited list of permissible tests was implemented for use by junior medical officers. Tests for patients 16 years and older presenting in a 20-week pre-intervention period from 19 January 2009 were compared with those in a corresponding 20-week post-intervention period from 18 January 2010. Main outcome measures were the number and cost of blood tests ordered.

Results 24 652 and 25 576 presentations were analysed in the pre- and post-intervention periods, respectively. The mean number of blood tests ordered per 100 ED presentations fell by 19% from 172 in the pre- to 140 in the post-intervention period (p=0.001). The mean cost of blood tests ordered per 100 ED presentations fell by 17% from $A3177 in the pre- to $A2633 in the post-intervention period (p=0.001). There were falls in the number of coagulation profiles (11.1 vs 4.8/100 patients), C-reactive protein (5.6 vs 2.7/100 patients), erythrocyte sedimentation rate (2.5 vs 1.3/100 patients) and thyroid function tests (2.2 vs 1.6/100 patients).

Conclusions Pathology request forms limiting tests that an intern and resident may order prior to consultation with a registrar or consultant are an effective low maintenance method for reducing laboratory test ordering in the ED that is sustainable over 12 months.


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