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Case study

Using Electronic Medical Records to Identify Enhanced Recovery After Surgery Cases


Nikki L. B. Freeman ,

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, US
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Katharine L. McGinigle ,

University of North Carolina School of Medicine, US
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Peter J. Leese

University of North Carolina School of Medicine; University of North Carolina Center for Health Innovation, US
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Context: Enhanced recovery after surgery (ERAS) aims to improve surgical outcomes by integrating evidence-based practices across preoperative, intraoperative, and postoperative care. Data in electronic medical records (EMRs) provide insight on how ERAS is implemented and its impact on surgical outcomes. Because ERAS is a multimodal pathway provided by multiple physicians and health care providers over time, identifying ERAS cases in EMRs is not a trivial task. To better understand how EMRs can be used to study ERAS, we describe our experience with using current methodologies and the development and rationale of a new method for retrospectively identifying ERAS cases in EMRs.

Case Description: Using EMR data from surgical departments at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, we first identified ERAS cases using a protocol-based method, using basic information including the date of ERAS implementation, surgical procedure and date, and primary surgeon. We further examined two operational flags in the EMRs, a nursing order and a case request for OR order. Wide variation between the methods compelled us to consult with ERAS surgical staff and explore the EMRs to develop a more refined method for identifying ERAS cases.

Method: We developed a two-step method, with the first step based on the protocol definition and the second step based on an ERAS-specific medication definition. To test our method, we randomly sampled 150 general, gynecological, and urologic surgeries performed between January 1, 2016 and March 30, 2017. Surgical cases were classified as ERAS or not using the protocol definition, nursing order, case request for OR order, and our two-step method. To assess the accuracy of each method, two independent reviewers assessed the charts to determine whether cases were ERAS.

Findings: Of the 150 charts reviewed, 74 were ERAS cases. The protocol only method and nursing order flag performed similarly, correctly identifying 74 percent and 73 percent of true ERAS cases, respectively. The case request for OR order flag performed less well, correctly identifying only 44 percent of the true ERAS cases. Our two-step method performed well, correctly identifying 98 percent of true ERAS cases.

Conclusion: ERAS pathways are complex, making study of them from EMRs difficult. Current strategies for doing so are relatively easy to implement, but unreliable. We have developed a reproducible and observable ERAS computational phenotype that identifies ERAS cases reliably. This is a step forward in using the richness of EMR data to study ERAS implementation, efficacy, and how they can contribute to surgical care improvement.

How to Cite: Freeman NLB, McGinigle KL, Leese PJ. Using Electronic Medical Records to Identify Enhanced Recovery After Surgery Cases. eGEMs (Generating Evidence & Methods to improve patient outcomes). 2019;7(1):34. DOI:
  Published on 26 Jul 2019

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