How do experienced physicians access and evaluate laboratory test results for the chronic patient? A qualitative analysis

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Torbjørn Torsvik, Børge Lillebo, Morten Hertzum

Background: Electronic health records may present laboratory test results in a variety of ways. Little is known about how the usefulness of different visualizations of laboratory test results is influenced by the complex and varied process of clinical decision making
Objective: The purpose of this study was to investigate how clinicians access and utilize laboratory test results when caring for patients with chronic illness.
Methods: We interviewed 10 attending physicians about how they access and assess laboratory tests when following up patients with chronic illness. The interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim, and analyzed qualitatively.
Results: Informants preferred different visualizations of laboratory test results, depending on what aspects of the data they were interested in. As chronic patients may have laboratory test results that are permanently outside standardized reference ranges, informants would often look for significant change, rather than exact values. What constituted significant change depended on contextual information (e.g. the results of other investigations, intercurrent diseases and medical interventions) spread across multiple locations in the electronic health record. For chronic patients, the temporal relations between data could often be of special interest. Informants struggled with finding and synthesizing fragmented information into meaningful overviews.
Conclusion: The presentation of laboratory test results should account for the large variety of associated contextual information needed for clinical comprehension. Future research is needed to improve the integration of the different parts of the electronic health record.
Original languageEnglish
JournalApplied Clinical Informatics
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)403-410
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - 2018

    Research areas

  • Faculty of Humanities - clinical chemistry, computerized medical records systems, user computer interface, data display

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