Application of human factors to improve usability of clinical decision support for diagnostic decision-making: a scenario-based simulation study

BMJ Qual Saf. 2020 Apr;29(4):329-340. doi: 10.1136/bmjqs-2019-009857. Epub 2019 Nov 27.


Objective: In this study, we used human factors (HF) methods and principles to design a clinical decision support (CDS) that provides cognitive support to the pulmonary embolism (PE) diagnostic decision-making process in the emergency department. We hypothesised that the application of HF methods and principles will produce a more usable CDS that improves PE diagnostic decision-making, in particular decision about appropriate clinical pathway.

Materials and methods: We conducted a scenario-based simulation study to compare a HF-based CDS (the so-called CDS for PE diagnosis (PE-Dx CDS)) with a web-based CDS (MDCalc); 32 emergency physicians performed various tasks using both CDS. PE-Dx integrated HF design principles such as automating information acquisition and analysis, and minimising workload. We assessed all three dimensions of usability using both objective and subjective measures: effectiveness (eg, appropriate decision regarding the PE diagnostic pathway), efficiency (eg, time spent, perceived workload) and satisfaction (perceived usability of CDS).

Results: Emergency physicians made more appropriate diagnostic decisions (94% with PE-Dx; 84% with web-based CDS; p<0.01) and performed experimental tasks faster with the PE-Dx CDS (on average 96 s per scenario with PE-Dx; 117 s with web-based CDS; p<0.001). They also reported lower workload (p<0.001) and higher satisfaction (p<0.001) with PE-Dx.

Conclusions: This simulation study shows that HF methods and principles can improve usability of CDS and diagnostic decision-making. Aspects of the HF-based CDS that provided cognitive support to emergency physicians and improved diagnostic performance included automation of information acquisition (eg, auto-populating risk scoring algorithms), minimisation of workload and support of decision selection (eg, recommending a clinical pathway). These HF design principles can be applied to the design of other CDS technologies to improve diagnostic safety.

Keywords: decision making; decision support, clinical; diagnostic errors; emergency department; human factors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Clinical Decision-Making / methods*
  • Computer Simulation*
  • Decision Support Systems, Clinical*
  • Efficiency
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Personal Satisfaction
  • Physicians / psychology*
  • Pulmonary Embolism / diagnosis*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • User-Centered Design*