Practical motives are prominent in test-ordering in the Emergency Department

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Laboratory test ordering under time pressure may impact test-ordering behavior.


To investigate the test-ordering behavior of doctors working under such pressure, we designed a questionnaire for trainees and staff in the Emergency Department (ED). This questionnaire addressed topics such as necessity of requested tests, time spent on ordering, costs and availability of tests, and the time of the day. We hypothesized that ordering behavior would be guided predominantly by the medical need of tests and aimed at identifying practical motives that also have an effect.


Remarkably, two-third of the respondents (67%) admitted that tests were ordered that would not influence treatment policy directly and 48% of the doctors stated that tests were ordered that do not impact treatment at all. The frequency of such orders was “sometimes” and “frequent” in a 50:50 ratio. Interestingly, tests that could prove relevant at a later stage are often ordered simultaneously to reduce burden on the patient. None of the respondents spent more than 3 min on the ordering process and very few (8%) desired more time for ordering. Most respondents (81%) declared to have limited knowledge of the costs of laboratory tests. A random survey covering four tests confirmed this. Generally, turnaround time did influence ordering behavior while time of the day did not.


In conclusion, doctors in an ED - besides first of all medical motives - heavily exploit practical (non-medical) reasoning for laboratory test ordering, e.g. taking availability of tests into account and ordering non-immediate tests.

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