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Open Access Research article

How information systems should support the information needs of general dentists in clinical settings: suggestions from a qualitative study

Mei Song1*, Heiko Spallek1, Deborah Polk2, Titus Schleyer1 and Teena Wali1

Author affiliations

1 Center for Dental Informatics in the Department of Dental Public Health and Information Management, School of Dental Medicine, University of Pittsburgh, 3501 Terrace Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15261, USA

2 Department of Dental Public Health and Information Management, School of Dental Medicine, University of Pittsburgh, 3501 Terrace Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15261, USA

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Citation and License

BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making 2010, 10:7  doi:10.1186/1472-6947-10-7

Published: 2 February 2010

Abstract

Background

A major challenge in designing useful clinical information systems in dentistry is to incorporate clinical evidence based on dentists' information needs and then integrate the system seamlessly into the complex clinical workflow. However, little is known about the actual information needs of dentists during treatment sessions. The purpose of this study is to identify general dentists' information needs and the information sources they use to meet those needs in clinical settings so as to inform the design of dental information systems.

Methods

A semi-structured interview was conducted with a convenience sample of 18 general dentists in the Pittsburgh area during clinical hours. One hundred and five patient cases were reported by these dentists. Interview transcripts were coded and analyzed using thematic analysis with a constant comparative method to identify categories and themes regarding information needs and information source use patterns.

Results

Two top-level categories of information needs were identified: foreground and background information needs. To meet these needs, dentists used four types of information sources: clinical information/tasks, administrative tasks, patient education and professional development. Major themes of dentists' unmet information needs include: (1) timely access to information on various subjects; (2) better visual representations of dental problems; (3) access to patient-specific evidence-based information; and (4) accurate, complete and consistent documentation of patient records. Resource use patterns include: (1) dentists' information needs matched information source use; (2) little use of electronic sources took place during treatment; (3) source use depended on the nature and complexity of the dental problems; and (4) dentists routinely practiced cross-referencing to verify patient information.

Conclusions

Dentists have various information needs at the point of care. Among them, the needs for better visual representation and patient-specific evidence-based information are mostly unmet. While patient records and support staff remain the most used information sources, electronic sources other than electronic dental records (EDR) are rarely utilized during patient visits. For future development of dental information or clinical decision-support systems, developers should consider integrating high-quality, up-to-date clinical evidence into comprehensive and easily accessible EDRs as well as supporting dentists' resource use patterns as identified in the study.