"Information overload" causes doctors to miss important data, study finds

A study of doctors in the US found that too many automated alerts from electronic health record systems causes important reports to be missed

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An excessive number of automated alerts from electronic health record (EHR) systems can cause doctors to miss important information, according to a new study from the US.

The study, published in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal, surveyed 2590 doctors working in hospitals run by the US Department of Veterans Affairs.

EHR systems generate automated alerts to notify doctors of abnormal medical test results. The study found that doctors receive an average of 63 automated alerts from electronic health care systems every day.

Just under 87% consider the volume of alerts excessive and 70% said they receive more alerts that they can manage.

More worryingly, 56% said that their EHR systems "as currently implemented" made it possible to miss important reports. "Almost a third (29.8%) reported having personally missed results that led to care delays", the paper said.

However, the study also established that it was the perception of information overload that was correlated with missing reports, not the volume of alerts.

This suggests that the appropriate volume of alerts is relative to each individual user's preferences and perceptions.