The impact of adopting EHRs: How losing connectivity affects clinical reasoning

Lara Varpio*, Kathy Day, Pat Elliot-Miller, James W. King, Craig Kuziemsky, Avi Parush, Tyson Roffey, Judy Rashotte

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Context: As electronic health records (EHRs) are adopted by teaching hospitals, educators must examine how this change impacts trainee development. Objectives: We investigate this influence by studying clinician experiences of a hospital's move from paper charts to an EHR. We ask: how does each chart modality present conceptions of time and data interconnections? How do these conceptions affect clinical reasoning? Methods: This two-phase, longitudinal study employed constructivist grounded theory. Data were collected at a paediatric teaching hospital before (Phase 1), during and after (Phase 2) the transition from a paper chart to an EHR system. Data collection consisted of field observations (146 hours involving 300 health care providers, 22 patients and 32 patient family members), think-aloud (n = 13) and think-after (n = 11) sessions, interviews (n = 39) and document retrieval (n = 392). Theories of rhetorical genre studies and visual rhetoric informed analysis. Results: In the paper flowsheet, clinicians recorded and viewed patient data in chronologically organised displays that emphasised data interconnections. In the EHR flowsheet, clinicians viewed and recorded individual data points that were largely chronologically and contextually isolated. Clinicians reported that this change resulted in: (i) not knowing the patient's evolving status; (ii) increased cognitive workload, and (iii) loss of clinical reasoning support mechanisms. Conclusions: Understanding how patient data are interconnected is essential to clinical reasoning. The use of EHRs supports this goal because the EHR is a tool for collecting dispersed data; however, these collections often deconstruct data interconnections. Where the paper flowsheet emphasises chronology and interconnectedness, the EHR flowsheet emphasises individual data values that are largely independent of time and other patient data. To prepare trainees to work with EHRs, the ways of thinking and acting that were implicitly learned through the use of paper charts must be made explicit. To support clinical reasoning, medical educators should provide lessons in connectivity - the chronologically framed data interconnections upon which clinicians rely to provide patient care.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)476-486
Number of pages11
JournalMedical Education
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 May 2015
Externally publishedYes


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