Resident physicians as human information systems: sources yet seekers

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Abstract

Objective

To characterize question types that residents received on overnight shifts and what information sources were used to answer them.

Materials and Methods

Across 30 overnight shifts, questions asked of on-call senior residents, question askers’ roles, and residents’ responses were documented. External sources were noted.

Results

158 of 397 questions (39.8%) related to the plan of care, 53 (13.4%) to medical knowledge, 48 (12.1%) to taskwork knowledge, and 44 (11.1%) to the current condition of patients. For 351 (88.4%) questions residents provided specific, direct answers or visited the patient. For 16 of these, residents modeled or completed the task. For 216 questions, residents used previous knowledge or their own clinical judgment. Residents solicited external information sources for 118 questions and only a single source for 77 (65.3%) of them. For the 118, most questions concerned either the plan of care or the patient's current condition and were asked by interns and nurses (those with direct patient care responsibilities).

Discussion

Resident physicians serve as an information system and they often specifically answer the question using previous knowledge or their own clinical judgment, suggesting that askers are contacting an appropriately knowledgeable person. However, they do need to access patient information such as the plan of care. They also serve an educator role and answer many knowledge-related questions.

Conclusions

As synchronous verbal communications continue to be important pathways for information flow, informaticians need to consider the relationship between such communications and workflow in the development of healthcare support tools.

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