Dynamic Electronic Health Record Note Prototype: Seeing More by Showing Less

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Cluttered documentation may contribute adversely to physician readers' cognitive load, inadvertently obscuring high-value information with less valuable information. We test the hypothesis that a novel, collapsible assessment, plan, subjective, objective (APSO) note design would be faster, more accurate, and more satisfying to use than a conventional electronic health record (EHR) subjective, objective, assessment, plan (SOAP) note for finding information needed for ambulatory chronic disease care.


We iteratively developed physician clinic note prototypes with features designed to emphasize more important information and de-emphasize less clinically relevant information. Sixteen primary care physicians reviewed comparable clinic notes with the 4 note styles presented in random order to find key information in the notes during timed tasks. The 4 note styles were denoted A (traditional SOAP note), B (2-column APSO note), C (collapsible APSO note), and D (2-column collapsible APSO note). The 4 unique note styles were designed to have equal amounts of information in each section. We simulated their utility for clinical practice by imposing time limits and by interrupting 1 of the tasks with a typical clinical interruption. For each session, we recorded audio, computer-screen activity, eye tracking, and made field notes. We obtained usability ratings (System Usability Scale), new feature preference ratings, and performed semistructured post-task interviews with subsequent content analysis. We compared the effectiveness of the 4 note styles by measuring time on task, task success (accuracy), and effort as measured by NASA Task Load Index.


Note styles C and D were significantly faster than A and B for the Review of Systems and Physical Examination tasks, as we expected. Notes B and C had the best success (finding requested data) scores. Users strongly endorsed all the new note features incorporated into the new note prototypes. Previously expressed concerns about temporarily hiding parts of the note (using the accordion display design pattern) were allayed. Usability ratings for note A were worst but comparably better for note styles B, C, and D.


The new APSO note prototypes performed better than the traditional SOAP note format for speed, task success (accuracy), and usability for physician users acquiring information needed for a typical chronic disease visit in primary care. Moving Assessment and Plan to the top is 1 easily accomplished feature change. Innovative documentation displays of EHR data can safely improve information display without eliminating data from the record of the visit.

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