Validation of the Work Observation Method By Activity Timing (WOMBAT) method of conducting time-motion observations in critical care settings: an observational study

BMC Med Inform Decis Mak. 2011 May 17:11:32. doi: 10.1186/1472-6947-11-32.


Background: Electronic documentation handling may facilitate information flows in health care settings to support better coordination of care among Health Care Providers (HCPs), but evidence is limited. Methods that accurately depict changes to the workflows of HCPs are needed to assess whether the introduction of a Critical Care clinical Information System (CCIS) to two Intensive Care Units (ICUs) represents a positive step for patient care. To evaluate a previously described method of quantifying amounts of time spent and interruptions encountered by HCPs working in two ICUs.

Methods: Observers used PDAs running the Work Observation Method By Activity Timing (WOMBAT) software to record the tasks performed by HCPs in advance of the introduction of a Critical Care clinical Information System (CCIS) to quantify amounts of time spent on tasks and interruptions encountered by HCPs in ICUs.

Results: We report the percentages of time spent on each task category, and the rates of interruptions observed for physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists, and unit clerks. Compared with previously published data from Australian hospital wards, interdisciplinary information sharing and communication in ICUs explain higher proportions of time spent on professional communication and documentation by nurses and physicians, as well as more frequent interruptions which are often followed by professional communication tasks.

Conclusions: Critical care workloads include requirements for timely information sharing and communication and explain the differences we observed between the two datasets. The data presented here further validate the WOMBAT method, and support plans to compare workflows before and after the introduction of electronic documentation methods in ICUs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Communication*
  • Critical Care*
  • Documentation
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Nurses
  • Physicians
  • Workflow