Open Access Research article

Effects of automated alerts on unnecessarily repeated serology tests in a cardiovascular surgery department: a time series analysis

Julie Niès13*, Isabelle Colombet12, Eric Zapletal2, Florence Gillaizeau12, Patrick Chevalier4 and Pierre Durieux12

Author Affiliations

1 Centre de Recherche des Cordeliers, INSERM, U872 Eq. 20, Paris, F-75006 France; Université Pierre et Marie Curie - Paris6, UMR S 872, Paris, F-75006 France; Université Paris Descartes, UMR S 872, Paris, F-75006 France

2 Medical Informatics Department, Georges Pompidou European Hospital, 75015 Paris, France

3 MEDASYS, Espace technologique de St Aubin, 91193 Gif-sur-Yvette Cedex, France

4 Cardio-Vascular Surgery Service, Georges Pompidou European Hospital, 75015 Paris, France

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BMC Health Services Research 2010, 10:70  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-10-70

Published: 19 March 2010



Laboratory testing is frequently unnecessary, particularly repetitive testing. Among the interventions proposed to reduce unnecessary testing, Computerized Decision Support Systems (CDSS) have been shown to be effective, but their impact depends on their technical characteristics. The objective of the study was to evaluate the impact of a Serology-CDSS providing point of care reminders of previous existing serology results, embedded in a Computerized Physician Order Entry at a university teaching hospital in Paris, France.


A CDSS was implemented in the Cardiovascular Surgery department of the hospital in order to decrease inappropriate repetitions of viral serology tests (HBV).

A time series analysis was performed to assess the impact of the alert on physicians' practices. The study took place between January 2004 and December 2007. The primary outcome was the proportion of unnecessarily repeated HBs antigen tests over the periods of the study. A test was considered unnecessary when it was ordered within 90 days after a previous test for the same patient. A secondary outcome was the proportion of potentially unnecessary HBs antigen test orders cancelled after an alert display.


In the pre-intervention period, 3,480 viral serology tests were ordered, of which 538 (15.5%) were unnecessarily repeated. During the intervention period, of the 2,095 HBs antigen tests performed, 330 unnecessary repetitions (15.8%) were observed. Before the intervention, the mean proportion of unnecessarily repeated HBs antigen tests increased by 0.4% per month (absolute increase, 95% CI 0.2% to 0.6%, p < 0.001). After the intervention, a significant trend change occurred, with a monthly difference estimated at -0.4% (95% CI -0.7% to -0.1%, p = 0.02) resulting in a stable proportion of unnecessarily repeated HBs antigen tests. A total of 380 unnecessary tests were ordered among 500 alerts displayed (compliance rate 24%).


The proportion of unnecessarily repeated tests immediately dropped after CDSS implementation and remained stable, contrasting with the significant continuous increase observed before. The compliance rate confirmed the effect of the alerts. It is necessary to continue experimentation with dedicated systems in order to improve understanding of the diversity of CDSS and their impact on clinical practice.