Targeted ordering of investigations reduces costs of treatment for surgical inpatients

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International Journal for Quality in Health Care


Background: Laboratory testing forms an important part of diagnostic investigation in modern medicine; however, the overuse of 'routine blood tests' can result in significant potential harm and financial cost to the patient and the healthcare system. In 2018, a new protocol targeting the ordering of investigations was implemented within the General Surgical Teams of Wollongong Hospital in New South Wales, an Australian tertiary referral hospital, to reduce the number of 'routine blood tests' as a quality improvement initiative. Objective: To identify whether there was a reduction in the number of 'routine blood tests' and associated costs following implementation of the new protocol. Methods: The protocol involved regular review of the laboratory investigations being ordered for the following day with a senior team member. The medical records of all patients admitted under the general surgery service at Wollongong Hospital were retrospectively reviewed over two 10-week periods in 2017 and 2018 (control and study, respectively). The casemix was categorized into Minor, Intermediate, Major or Unscored, depending on case complexity coding. Results: A total of 838 patients were identified during the control period (2017) and 805 patients were identified during the study period (2018). Ten thousand and thirty tests were included in the control period, compared to 8610 over the study period, resulting in a 16% (or greater) reduction in 'routine blood tests' per patient, per day of admission and a 6% reduction in costs in the study group (P < 0.001). Conclusion: Targeted ordering of investigations with personalized education and feedback to junior staff during review of clinical status of each patient as a part of normal workflow can reduce inappropriate ordering of 'routine blood tests' and associated costs to the patient and the healthcare system.

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