Electronic ordering and the management of treatment interdependencies: a qualitative study of paediatric chemotherapy

Valentina Lichtner, Bryony Dean Franklin, Luciano Dalla-Pozza, Johanna I Westbrook

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: There are serious safety risks associated with chemotherapy, often associated with interdependencies in regimens administered over months or years. Various strategies are used to manage these risks. Computerized provider order entry (CPOE) systems are also implemented to improve medication safety. Little is known regarding the effect of CPOE on how clinicians manage chemotherapy interdependencies and their associated safety strategies.

Methods: We conducted a multi-method qualitative study in a paediatric hospital. We analysed 827 oncology incidents reported following CPOE implementation and carried out semi-structured interviews with doctors (n = 10), nurses (n = 6), a pharmacist, and oncology CPOE team members (n = 2). Results were interpreted according to safety models (ultra-safe, high-reliability organisations [HROs], or ultra-adaptive).

Results: Incident reports highlighted two interrelated types of interdependencies: those within organisation of clinical activities and those inherent in chemotherapy regimens. Clinicians reported strategies to address chemotherapy risks and interdependencies. These included rigid rules and 'no go' contexts for treatment to proceed, typical of the ultra-safe model; use of time (e.g. planning only so far ahead) and sensitivity to operations, typical of HROs. We identified three different time horizons in CPOE use in relation to patients' treatments: life-long, the whole regimen, and the 'here and now'. CPOE supported ultra-safe strategies through automation and access to rules/standardisation, but also created difficulties and contributed to incidents. It supported the 'here and now' better than a life-long or whole regimen view of a patient treatment. Sensitivity to operations was essential to anticipate and resolve uncertainties, hazards, CPOE limitations, and mismatches between CPOE processes and workflow in practice.

Conclusions: Within oncology, CPOE appears to move the 'mix' of risk strategies towards ultra-safe models of safety and protocol-mandated care. However, in order to operate ultra-safe strategies embedded in CPOE and stay on protocol it is essential for clinicians to be thoughtful and show sensitivity to operations in CPOE use. CPOE design can be advanced by better consideration of mechanisms to support interdependencies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number193
Pages (from-to)1-12
JournalBMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 14 Aug 2020


  • health information technology
  • evaluation
  • medication safety
  • system safety
  • paediatrics
  • hospitals
  • human factors
  • qualitative research


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