Background: Traditional electronic medical record (EMR) interfaces mark laboratory tests as abnormal based on standard reference ranges derived from healthy, middle-aged adults. This yields many false positive alerts with subsequent alertfatigue when applied to complex populations like hospitalized, critically ill patients. Novel EMR interfaces using adjusted reference ranges customized for specific patient populations may ameliorate this problem.
Objective: To compare accuracy of abnormal laboratory value indicators in a novel vs traditional EMR interface. Methods: Laboratory data from intensive care unit (ICU) patients consecutively admitted during a two-day period were recorded. For each patient, available laboratory results and the problem list were sent to two mutually blinded critical care experts, who marked the values about which they would like to be alerted. All disagreements were resolved by an independent super-reviewer. Based on this gold standard, we calculated and compared the sensitivity, specificity, positive and negative predictive values (PPV, NPV) of customized vs traditional abnormal value indicators.
Results: Thirty seven patients with a total of 1341 laboratory results were included. Experts' agreement was fair (kappa = 0.39). Compared to the traditional EMR, custom abnormal laboratory value indicators had similar sensitivity (77% vs 85%, P = 0.22) and NPV (97.1% vs 98.6%, P = 0.06) but higher specificity (79% vs 61%, P<0.001) and PPV (28% vs 11%, P< 0.001).
Conclusions: Reference ranges for laboratory values customized for an ICU population decrease false positive alerts. Disagreement among clinicians about which laboratory values should be indicated as abnormal limits the development of customized reference ranges.
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