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Cognitive overload in healthcare: How to ease the pain


Technology was supposed to make clinicians’ lives easier. Just over a decade ago, they were sorting through paper charts and documenting patient encounters by hand, with multiple pagers strapped to their belts. With patient health records now being mainly electronic, shouldn’t things be simpler?

Unfortunately for clinicians, technology has only resulted in an explosion of information, as they spend more time processing, documenting, and communicating care activities than ever before. Clinicians’ workflows are already non-linear and disruptive, and technology with mountains of data, notifications, and alerts can add to this burden. If clinicians are constantly splitting their attention among multiple sources, this can lead to cognitive overload and make it harder for them to focus on critical patient care tasks.

From December 2018 to March 2019, Definitive Healthcare and Vocera Communications surveyed 323 clinical, IT, and business leaders at acute provider organizations across the U.S. to understand the cognitive burden technology-based tasks have on clinicians. Here are some of the findings:

What are the signs and symptoms of clinician cognitive overload?

 cognitive overload-1

Fig 1: Signs of cognitive overload, Definitive Healthcare and Vocera study

The study found that 77 percent of clinicians (nurses, physicians, etc.) appear stressed or overwhelmed by technology in their practices. This may be the reason that 62 percent are reluctant to adopt new technologies. In many cases, nurses and physicians create “workarounds” with the technology they already have in order to “make it work,” rather than communicating that the current technology is adding complexity to their jobs. When time is tight and stress is high, many clinicians’ threshold for learning and adopting new technologies is low, even if it might lessen their cognitive overload in the long run.

Which technologies contribute to cognitive overload?

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Fig 2: Technology tasks contributing to clinician cognitive overload, Definitive Healthcare and Vocera study

It’s no surprise that 77 percent of respondents indicated that documenting and charting in the EHR contributes to cognitive overload. Some EHRs require so many clicks and switches between page views to access specific patient information that it causes frustration and increases the risk of error. Not to mention, it can be difficult to exchange information between vendors with different interfaces and components.

How to reduce clinician cognitive overload


Fig 3: Percent of clinicians selecting communication solutions with the greatest impact on reducing cognitive burden from technology, Definitive Healthcare and Vocera study

Ultimately, clinicians are looking for simple, all-in-one technologies that make their lives easier and allow them to make informed decisions in a fast-paced environment. When heading into work, many of these clinicians are forced to leave behind the modern technologies that they use on a daily basis, like smartphones, and travel back in time to using landline phones and fax machines! It is no wonder that 71 percent of clinicians are interested in seeing the development of a mobile app that enables care coordination and communication across multiple care team members.

Respondents also saw the benefit of pushing relevant EHR data to the right care team members and their devices (67 percent) and filtering and prioritizing alerts and alarms (53 percent).

Learn more

Learn more about the study results and recommendations by downloading the full report today. Interested in learning more about the different types of technologies currently installed in U.S. hospitals? Definitive Healthcare has all of this information and more to help you identify opportunities in the market, target your sales strategy, and elevate your sales conversations. Start your free trial today.

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Definitive Healthcare

This blog was written by a former contributor at Definitive Healthcare.At Definitive Healthcare, our passion is to transform data, analytics and expertise into healthcare…

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