Improving clinician decisions and communication in critical care using novel information technology

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Department of Cognitive and Learning Sciences



The electronic medical record (EMR) is presumed to support clinician decisions by documenting and retrieving patient information. Research shows that the EMR variably affects patient care and clinical decision making. The way information is presented likely has a significant impact on this variability. Well-designed representations of salient information can make a task easier by integrating information in useful patterns that clinicians use to make improved clinical judgments and decisions. Using Cognitive Systems Engineering methods, our research team developed a novel health information technology (NHIT) that interfaces with the EMR to display salient clinical information and enabled communication with a dedicated text-messaging feature. The software allows clinicians to customize displays according to their role and information needs. Here we present results of usability and validation assessments of the NHIT.

Materials and Methods

Our subjects were physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists, and physician trainees. Two arms of this study were conducted, a usability assessment and then a validation assessment. The usability assessment was a computer-based simulation using deceased patient data. After a brief five-minute orientation, the usability assessment measured individual clinician performance of typical tasks in two clinical scenarios using the NHIT. The clinical scenarios included patient admission to the unit and patient readiness for surgery. We evaluated clinician perspective about the NHIT after completing tasks using 7-point Likert scale surveys. In the usability assessment, the primary outcome was participant perceptions about the system’s ease of use compared to the legacy system.

A subsequent cross-over, validation assessment compared performance of two clinical teams during simulated care scenarios: one using only the legacy IT system and one using the NHIT in addition to the legacy IT system. We oriented both teams to the NHIT during a 1-hour session on the night before the first scenario. Scenarios were conducted using high-fidelity simulation in a real burn intensive care unit room. We used observations, task completion times, semi-structured interviews, and surveys to compare user decisions and perceptions about their performance. The primary outcome for the validation assessment was time to reach accurate (correct) decision points.


During the usability assessment, clinicians were able to complete all tasks requested. Clinicians reported the NHIT was easier to use and the novel information display allowed for easier data interpretation compared to subject recollection of the legacy EMR.

In the validation assessment, a more junior team of clinicians using the NHIT arrived at accurate diagnoses and decision points at similar times as a more experienced team. Both teams noted improved communication between team members when using the NHIT and overall rated the NHIT as easier to use than the legacy EMR, especially with respect to finding information.


The primary findings of these assessments are that clinicians found the NHIT easy to use despite minimal training and experience and that it did not degrade clinician efficiency or decision-making accuracy. These findings are in contrast to common user experiences when introduced to new EMRs in clinical practice.

Publisher's Statement

Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States 2019. This work is written by (a) US Government employee(s) and is in the public domain in the US. Publisher’s version of record: https://doi.org/10.1093/milmed/usz151

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Military Medicine