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Qual Saf Health Care. 2002 Mar;11(1):69-75.

Decision support and safety of clinical environments.

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Pulmonary Division, LDS Hospital, Salt Lake City, Utah 84143, USA.


Safety in the clinical environment is based on structures that reduce the probability of harm, on evidence that enhances the likelihood of actions that increase favourable outcomes, and on explicit directions that lead to decisions to implement the actions dictated by this evidence. A clinical decision error rate of only 1% threatens patient safety at a distressing frequency. Explicit computerised decision support tools standardise clinical decision making and lead different clinicians to the same set of diagnostic or therapeutic instructions. They have favourable impacts on patient outcome. Simple computerised algorithms that generate reminders, alerts, or other information, and protocols that incorporate more complex rules reduce the clinical decision error rate. Decision support tools are not new; it is the new attributes of explicit computerised decision support tools that deserve identification. When explicit computerised protocols are driven by patient data, the protocol output (instructions) is patient specific, thus preserving individualized treatment while standardising clinical decisions. The expected decrease in variation and increase in compliance with evidence-based recommendations should decrease the error rate and enhance patient safety.

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