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

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Abstract

Background:

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.

Methods:

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).

Results:

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]).

Conclusions:

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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