Assessing the Burden of Abnormal LFTs and the Role of the Electronic Health Record: A Retrospective Study

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Primary care clinicians encounter abnormal liver function tests (LFTs) frequently. This study assesses the prevalence of abnormal LFTs and patient follow-up patterns in response.


This is a retrospective study from 2007-2016 of adult patients with abnormal LFTs seen in an internal medicine clinic. The proportion of patients with follow-up testing and the time (in days) to repeat LFTs were the primary outcomes measured. Results were evaluated before and after the implementation of the institution’s electronic health record (EHR).


This study identified a period prevalence for abnormal LFTs of 39%. Of these, 9,545 unique patients met inclusion criteria, with 8,415 patients (88.2%) possessing follow-up LFTs and no significant difference in the proportion of patients receiving follow-up by degree of initial abnormality. Median time to follow-up in mild abnormalities (1-2 times normal) was 138 days, compared to 21 days for severe abnormalities (>4 times normal, P < 0.0001). Reduced time to repeat testing across all spectrums of abnormality was observed following EHR implementation, but proportions of missing follow-up did not improve. A multivariable logistic regression model identified younger age, poverty, living over 50 miles from clinic, recent cohort entry and a lower magnitude of abnormality as predictors for missing repeat LFT testing (area under the curve = 0.838 [95% CI: 0.827-0.849]).


Abnormal LFTs were detected in 39% of all patients seen. The degree of LFT abnormality did not influence rates of follow-up testing, but does appear to play a role in the timing of repeat testing, when obtained. Follow-up rates did not improve with EHR implementation.

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