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Open Access Research article

Comparison of alphabetical versus categorical display format for medication order entry in a simulated touch screen anesthesia information management system: an experiment in clinician-computer interaction in anesthesia

Anil A Marian1*, Franklin Dexter1, Peter Tucker12 and Michael M Todd1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Anesthesia, University of Iowa, 6JCP, 200 Hawkins Drive, Iowa City, IA 52242, USA

2 Current Affiliation: Rush University, 600 S Paulina St, Chicago, IL 60612, USA

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BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making 2012, 12:46  doi:10.1186/1472-6947-12-46

Published: 29 May 2012

Abstract

Background

Anesthesia information management system (AIMS) records should be designed and configured to facilitate the accurate and prompt recording of multiple drugs administered coincidentally or in rapid succession.

Methods

We proposed two touch-screen display formats for use with our department’s new EPIC touch-screen AIMS. In one format, medication “buttons” were arranged in alphabetical order (i.e. A-C, D-H etc.). In the other, buttons were arranged in categories (Common, Fluids, Cardiovascular, Coagulation etc.). Both formats were modeled on an iPad screen to resemble the AIMS interface. Anesthesia residents, anesthesiologists, and Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (n = 60) were then asked to find and touch the correct buttons for a series of medications whose names were displayed to the side of the entry screen. The number of entries made within 2 minutes was recorded. This was done 3 times for each format, with the 1st format chosen randomly. Data were analyzed from the third trials with each format to minimize differences in learning.

Results

The categorical format had a mean of 5.6 more drugs entered using the categorical method in two minutes than the alphabetical format (95% confidence interval [CI] 4.5 to 6.8, P < 0.0001). The findings were the same regardless of the order of testing (i.e. alphabetical-categorical vs. categorical - alphabetical) and participants’ years of clinical experience. Most anesthesia providers made no (0) errors for most trials (N = 96/120 trials, lower 95% limit 73%, P < 0.0001). There was no difference in error rates between the two formats (P = 0.53).

Conclusions

The use of touch-screen user interfaces in healthcare is increasingly common. Arrangement of drugs names in a categorical display format in the medication order-entry touch screen of an AIMS can result in faster data entry compared to an alphabetical arrangement of drugs. Results of this quality improvement project were used in our department’s design of our final intraoperative electronic anesthesia record. This testing approach using cognitive and usability engineering methods can be used to objectively design and evaluate many aspects of the clinician-computer interaction in electronic health records.