Effect of an obesity best practice alert on physician documentation and referral practices
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Electronic Health Record Meaningful Use Incentive Program requires physicians to document body mass index (BMI) and a follow-up treatment plan for adult patients with BMI ≥ 25. To examine the effect of a best practice alert on physician documentation of obesity-related care and referrals to weight management treatment, in a cluster-randomized design, 14 primary care clinics at an academic medical center were randomized to best practice alert intervention (n = 7) or comparator (n = 7). The alert was triggered when both height and weight were entered and BMI was ≥30. Both intervention and comparator clinics could document meaningful use by selecting a nutrition education handout within the alert. Intervention clinics could also select a referral option from the list of clinic and community-based weight management programs embedded in the alert. Main outcomes were proportion of eligible patients with (1) obesity-related documentation and (2) referral. There were 26,471 total primary care encounters with 12,981 unique adult patients with BMI ≥ 30 during the 6-month study period. Documentation doubled (17 to 33%) with implementation of the alert. However, intervention clinics were not significantly more likely to refer patients to weight management than comparator clinics (2.8 vs. 1.3%, p = 0.07). Although the alert was associated with increased physician meaningful use compliance, it was not an effective strategy for improving patient access to weight management services. Further research is needed to understand system-level characteristics that influence obesity management in primary care.