Patients' and physicians' understanding of health and biomedical concepts: relationship to the design of EMR systems

J Biomed Inform. 2002 Feb;35(1):8-16. doi: 10.1016/s1532-0464(02)00002-3.


Objective: The aim of this paper is to examine knowledge organization and reasoning strategies involved in physician-patient communication and to consider how these are affected by the use of computer tools, in particular, electronic medical record (EMR) systems.

Design: In the first part of the paper, we summarize results from a study in which patients were interviewed before their interactions with physicians and where physician-patient interactions were recorded and analyzed to evaluate patients' and physicians' understanding of the patient problem. We give a detailed presentation of one of such interaction, with characterizations of physician and patient models. In a second set of studies, the contents of both paper and EMRs were compared and in addition, physician-patient interactions (involving the use of EMR technology) were video recorded and analyzed to assess physicians' information gathering and knowledge organization for medical decision-making.

Results: Physicians explained the patient problems in terms of causal pathophysiological knowledge underlying the disease (disease model), whereas patients explained them in terms of narrative structures of illness (illness model). The data-driven nature of the traditional physician-patient interaction allows physicians to capture the temporal flow of events and to document key aspects of the patients' narratives. Use of electronic medical records was found to influence the way patient data were gathered, resulting in information loss and disruption of temporal sequence of events in assessing patient problem.

Conclusions: The physician-patient interview allows physicians to capture crucial aspects of the patient's illness model, which are necessary for understanding the problem from the patients' perspective. Use of computer-based patient record technology may lead to a loss of this relevant information. As a consequence, designers of such systems should take into account information relevant to the patient comprehension of medical problems, which will influence their compliance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cognition
  • Communication
  • Computational Biology
  • Humans
  • Medical Records Systems, Computerized*
  • Physician-Patient Relations*