Design of decision support interventions for medication prescribing

Int J Med Inform. 2013 Jun;82(6):492-503. doi: 10.1016/j.ijmedinf.2013.02.003. Epub 2013 Mar 13.


Objective: Describe optimal design attributes of clinical decision support (CDS) interventions for medication prescribing, emphasizing perceptual, cognitive and functional characteristics that improve human-computer interaction (HCI) and patient safety.

Methods: Findings from published reports on success, failures and lessons learned during implementation of CDS systems were reviewed and interpreted with regard to HCI and software usability principles. We then formulated design recommendations for CDS alerts that would reduce unnecessary workflow interruptions and allow clinicians to make informed decisions quickly, accurately and without extraneous cognitive and interactive effort.

Results: Excessive alerting that tends to distract clinicians rather than provide effective CDS can be reduced by designing only high severity alerts as interruptive dialog boxes and less severe warnings without explicit response requirement, by curating system knowledge bases to suppress warnings with low clinical utility and by integrating contextual patient data into the decision logic. Recommended design principles include parsimonious and consistent use of color and language, minimalist approach to the layout of information and controls, the use of font attributes to convey hierarchy and visual prominence of important data over supporting information, the inclusion of relevant patient data in the context of the alert and allowing clinicians to respond with one or two clicks.

Conclusion: Although HCI and usability principles are well established and robust, CDS and EHR system interfaces rarely conform to the best known design conventions and are seldom conceived and designed well enough to be truly versatile and dependable tools. These relatively novel interventions still require careful monitoring, research and analysis of its track record to mature. Clarity and specificity of alert content and optimal perceptual and cognitive attributes, for example, are essential for providing effective decision support to clinicians.

Publication types

  • Research Support, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Decision Support Systems, Clinical / standards*
  • Humans
  • Medical Informatics*
  • Medical Order Entry Systems*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'*