Implementing Clinical Decision Support Systems

Team-Based Care

Clinical decision support systems (CDSS) are computer-based programs that analyze data within EHRs to provide prompts and reminders to assist health care providers in implementing evidence-based clinical guidelines at the point of care. Applied to cardiovascular disease (CVD) prevention, this Domain 3 strategy can be used to facilitate care in various ways—for example, by reminding providers to screen for CVD risk factors, flagging cases of hypertension or hyperlipidemia, providing information on treatment protocols, prompting questions on medication adherence, and providing tailored recommendations for health behavior changes.

Clinical Decision Support Evidence of Effectiveness. Described in following paragraph.

The evidence base demonstrating the effectiveness of CDSS is very strong. Research studies that examined CDSS had strong internal and external validity, the Community Preventive Services Task Force concluded that CDSS is effective, and CDSS trials have been replicated with positive results. Implementation guidance on CDSS is available from several sources.

Clinical Decision Support Evidence of Impact. Described in following paragraph.

Health Impact

A review by the Community Preventive Services Task Force found that CDSS leads to significant improvements in the following three quality-of-care practices for CVD prevention delivered by health care providers:1,2

– Recommendations for screening (e.g., for blood pressure or cholesterol) and other preventive care (e.g., smoking cessation).

– Evidence-based clinical tests related to CVD.

– CVD-related treatments prescribed.

Evidence shows that CDSS can be tied to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, but the findings on this association are inconsistent.

Health Disparity Impact

The ability of CDSS to reduce health disparities is understudied, and several researchers have suggested that further work is needed to directly examine this issue. Some have noted that providers working with underserved communities typically lag behind in the uptake of electronic health records (EHRs) and CDSS, and evidence exists that CDSS leads to successful health outcomes when used in underserved communities.3,4 Thus, it is reasonable to conclude that CDSS has the potential to eliminate barriers and reduce disparities in hypertension-related care.

Economic Impact

Economic factors related to the implementation and maintenance of CDSS have not been well-documented. A review by the Community Preventive Services Task Force was inconclusive because of a lack of available data. The Task Force found that current studies are extremely heterogeneous in the range of CDSS functions and CVD risk factors studied and in the completeness or inclusion of major cost factors. Thus, the ability to determine an overall estimate of the cost or economic benefit of CDSS is limited. Of the studies available, health care costs appear to be more likely to decrease than increase after CDSS implementation, but the usefulness of this evidence is limited by incomplete and inconsistent data.5 More data on the complete costs of developing, implementing, and operating CDSS systems are needed to fully assess its cost-effectiveness or return on investment.

  1. Settings
    Although CDSS has been implemented in a wide variety of health care settings, most published research has been within the context of primary outpatient care.
  2. Policy and Law-Related Considerations
    Legal considerations for CDSS begin with the vendors who interpret and translate guidelines into algorithms used by these systems. Vendors must fully disclose the sources used to build the knowledge base for their software and any limitations or weaknesses of the software. Providers must ensure that CDSS programming is updated regularly to account for changes in evidence and guidelines, and that EHRs associated with CDSS include complete and up-to-date information about patients’ medical histories and allergies.1,8,13 Provider fatigue or avoidance of CDSS guidance has been raised as a barrier to successful outcomes, leading to suggestions that initial and repeat trainings be a mandatory part of CDSS implementation.
  3. Implementation Guidance
    Implementation guidance for CDSS is available from various sources. The following resources may be particularly useful:
  1. Resources
    CDSS is supported and promoted by many federal initiatives and agencies, including the following:
Stories from the Field: Clinical Decision Support

CDSS at South Omaha Medical Associates

South Omaha Medical Associates (SOMA) is a family-owned, family-operated clinic that is centrally located in South Omaha, Nebraska. It has a higher percentage of low-income patients than clinics in surrounding areas. SOMA collaborated with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, Douglas County Health Department, and Wide River Health Information Technology to assess its technology needs and make plans to implement CDSS. As a result of this assessment, the clinic increased its use of EHRs and implemented systems to better identify patients with undiagnosed hypertension, increase use and monitoring of clinical quality measures, and increase use of clinically supported self-measured blood pressure monitoring. These changes improved workflow at the clinic and led to a 25% increase in patient visits since the start of the collaboration. In addition, Blue Cross Blue Shield awarded SOMA its Blue Distinction Award for meeting overall quality measures for patient safety and outcomes.

For more information:
Chronic Disease Prevention and Control Program
Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services
301 Centennial Mall South
Lincoln, NE 68509

  1. Community Preventive Services Task Force. The Guide to Community Preventive Services. Cardiovascular Disease: Clinical Decision-Support Systems (CDSS). icon. Accessed August 17, 2017.
  2. Njie GJ, Proia KK, Thota AB, et al. Clinical decision support systems and prevention: a Community Guide cardiovascular disease systematic review. Am J Prev Med. 2015;49(5): 784–795.
  3. NORC at the University of Chicago. Understanding the Impact of Health IT in Underserved Communities and Those with Health Disparities. pdf icon[PDF-929 KB]external icon. Accessed February 9, 2017.
  4. Mitchell J, Probst J, Brock-Martin A, Bennett K, Glover S, Hardin J. Association between clinical decision support system use and rural quality disparities in the treatment of pneumonia. J Rural Health. 2014;30(2):186–195.
  5. Jacob V, Thota AB, Chattopadhyay SK, et al. Cost and economic benefit of clinical decision support systems for cardiovascular disease prevention: a Community Guide systematic review. J Am Med Inform Assoc. 2017;24(3): 669–676.
  6. American Medical Group Foundation. Measure Up Pressure Down: Provider Toolkit to Improve Hypertension Control. Alexandria, VA: American Medical Group Foundation; 2013.
  7. Optimizing Strategies for Clinical Decision Support. pdf icon[PDF – 1.4 MB]external icon. Accessed June 24, 2020
  8. Kilsdonk E, Peute LW, Jaspers MWM. Factors influencing implementation success of guideline-based clinical decision support systems: A systematic review and gaps analysis. International Journal of Medical Informatics. 2017;98:56-64.
  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hypertension Control Change Package for Clinicians. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services; 2015.
  10. gov. Policymaking, Regulation, & Strategy. Clinical Decision Support (CDS). icon. Accessed April 12, 2017.
  11. Merit-Based Incentive Payment System: Advancing Care Information. Accessed September 26, 2017.
  12. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Health Information Technology. Clinical Decision Support (CDS). icon. Accessed April 12, 2017.
  13. Fox J, Thomson R. Clinical decision support systems: a discussion of quality, safety and legal liability issues. Proc AMIA Symp. 2002:265–269.
  14. Norwegian Institute of Public Health. GUIDES checklist: A tool to assist professionals when implementing guidelines with computerized decision support. icon. Accessed March 22, 2018.

Note: The web version has been updated in an effort to keep the linked resources current, and for this reason some of the content may differ with the PDF version.