How a screening prompted by clinical decision support saved a patient’s life

Brett Coughlin | June 16, 2014

Anti-aircraft artillery and abdominal aortic aneurysms have a couple of things in common. First, they are both known as ‘Triple A’ (AAA). Second, they both blow up.

Killing time before the recent eHealth Summit at CMS in Baltimore, Larry Garber, an internist at Worcester, Massachusetts-based Reliant Medical Group, who was speaking at the event, mentioned the abbreviation (referencing the aneurysm, not the Ack/Ack guns).

Garber, an ONC Health IT Fellow and early adopter of EHRs, tells the Buzz blog how a simple decision support prompt likely saved the life of one of Reliant’s patients.

A notification on the screen of Reliant’s patient portal alerted a 65-year-old Medicare patient that he was due for the AAA screening. Garber said that the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends that when men who smoked in the past turn 65, they should be screened for Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm. “He contacted us because he saw the reminder which was triggered by his prior smoking history in our EHR,” said Garber.  A screening ultrasound was scheduled and the man came in for the test.

“We found an aneurysm this big,” Garber said, making a spheroid shape with his hands the size of a Florida grapefruit. If the aneurysm had ruptured, Garber said, it more than likely would have killed the patient.  The patient was promptly admitted to the hospital and had the aneurysm repaired.

Garber agreed that although there are certainly challenges with the implementation of  health IT usability, the benefits to patients outweigh them all.

Have a similar anecdote about how health IT saved a life, reduced redundancies or improved the health of one of your patients? Leave a comment below or contact me at