"Attention on the flight deck": what ambulatory care providers can learn from pilots about complex coordinated actions

Patient Educ Couns. 2013 Dec;93(3):367-72. doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2013.08.011. Epub 2013 Aug 20.


Objective: Technical and interpersonal challenges of using electronic health records (EHRs) in ambulatory care persist. We use cockpit communication as an example of highly coordinated complex activity during flight and compare it with providers' communication when computers are used in the exam room.

Methods: Maximum variation sampling was used to identify two videotapes from a parent study of primary care physicians' exam room computer demonstrating the greatest variation. We then produced and analyzed visualizations of the time providers spent looking at the computer and looking at the patient.

Results: Unlike the cockpit which is engineered to optimize joint attention on complex coordinated activities, we found polar extremes in the use of joint focus of attention to manage the medical encounter.

Conclusion: We conclude that there is a great deal of room for improving the balance of interpersonal and technical attention that occurs in routine ambulatory visits in which computers are present in the exam room.

Practice implications: Using well-known aviation practices can help primary care providers become more aware of the opportunities and challenges for enhancing the physician patient relationship in an era of exam room computing.

Keywords: Electronic health records; Person/machine interaction; Situation awareness; Social interaction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Ambulatory Care*
  • Attention*
  • Attitude to Computers*
  • Communication*
  • Electronic Health Records*
  • Humans
  • Medical Records Systems, Computerized
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Videotape Recording