CMIO Robert Donnell, M.D. on the Journey of Clinical Decision Support at Froedtert Health | Healthcare Informatics Magazine | Health IT | Information Technology Skip to content Skip to navigation

CMIO Robert Donnell, M.D. on the Journey of Clinical Decision Support at Froedtert Health

May 31, 2016
by Mark Hagland
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MDs have been involved every step of the way in the journey around CDS for diagnostic imaging ordering

Moving the physicians of any organization forward to embrace clinical decision support for the ordering of diagnostic imaging procedures is inevitably a journey, healthcare industry leaders agree. That certainly has been the case at Froedtert Health, the Milwaukee-based integrated health system that encompasses three hospitals and more than 25 primary and specialty care health centers and clinics, in southeastern Wisconsin, as well as the Medical College of Wisconsin. The three inpatient facilities that are part of the regional health network are Froedtert Hospital (Milwaukee), Community Memorial Hospital (Menomonee Falls), and St. Joseph Hospital (West Bend). According to its website, the network’s three hospitals encompass 784 staffed beds, nearly 40,000 annual admissions, and more than 900,000 annual outpatient visits.

Helping to lead change around clinical decision support at Froedtert Health has been CMIO Robert Donnell, M.D., a physician who has been in the CMIO for four years, and who continues to spend 20 percent of his time as a practicing urologist. About three years ago, Dr. Donnell and his colleagues began the current phase of their journey around CDS for diagnostic imaging; a year ago, they went live with a solution from the New York City-based MedCPU.

Dr. Donnell spoke recently with HCI Editor-in-Chief Mark Hagland about the CDS initiative. Below are excerpts from that interview.

Tell me about your organization’s journey around clinical decision support for diagnostic imaging.

It has been one of the most interesting projects and studies, all at the same time. It really has been a lesson to me, and always a positive reinforcement as a lesson, on the value of physician and clinical leader engagement. When you have an idea, getting buy-in and sponsorship, actually working something through the system, is extremely important.

We began with the recognized need for clinical decision support, but also recognized the gap—current clinical decision supports failed to incorporate information buried in the progress note—and that’s where 80 percent of the information is. And it’s buried in freetext, much of it. Beginning with the paper by Bates [the Nov-Dec 2003 Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association (JAMIA) article, “Ten Commandments for Effective Clinical Decision Support: Making the Practice of Evidence-based Medicine Reality,” by David W. Bates, M.D. et al], we presented to them a list of what it would take to invoke or employ a clinical decision support system that would help them but not get in the way. We do have smart sets and order sets and basic alerts. And they’re very good. But as we know, the importance there is that I complete all the discrete elements in order to trigger those alerts, or I work in a very specific order in order to have those systems function at their best.

Robert Donnell, M.D.

But I was trying to get our organization to understand that we want to actually engage our clinical decision support at the point where our providers are actually thinking, not once a decision has already been made—helping them at the point of decision, rather than forcing them to back up or make a right turn. And if I could get them to be satisfied and be engaged, we felt that we could improve care. I’m a firm believer in CDS: my original background was as an engineer, and it was a cultural shock to enter medicine and find that we didn’t have decision analysis readily available.

So when did you begin this process?

We started the selection process about three years ago. We selected a vendor about two years ago—MedCPU—and we went live just a year and a half ago. Going live first on our academic campus for radiology, and subsequently rolling it out to our community divisions, and then adding more features as we went.

What are the core features you’re using from that solution?

We are currently using the radiology components, both ambulatory and acute-care and emergency room; we have value-based purchasing; we have inpatient-only surgeries. There’s a list of 1,700 surgeries that CMS [the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services] will only reimburse for if the surgery is performed while the patient’s an inpatient. That’s largely an administrative issue. We also have CDS for back pain, for cancer care, particularly in breast and gynecologic oncology patients who may present to the ER and other non-oncology services; we have sepsis. And we’re getting into our high-volume care for diabetes, ensuring colonoscopies are done, breast cancer screening, and cholesterol testing, and those ambulatory measures that are publicly reported.

This set of clinical decision support tools is available to practically all the physicians, then?

Correct. One of the tenets I put forward to the organization was that if we decided that there was a need for clinical decision support, it needed to be translatable to every area of our practice, to unify care.

So it’s available to all affiliated physicians and all physicians working inpatient and ED, correct?

Yes, and we will fire alerts for nurses and medical assistants.

How many physicians does this encompass, then?

Just over 2,000 physicians.

So they’re using this in the inpatient, ED, and in the outpatient setting?

That’s correct.


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