Unmet information needs of clinical teams delivering care to complex patients and design strategies to address those needs

J Am Med Inform Assoc. 2020 May 1;27(5):690-699. doi: 10.1093/jamia/ocaa010.


Objectives: To identify the unmet information needs of clinical teams delivering care to patients with complex medical, social, and economic needs; and to propose principles for redesigning electronic health records (EHR) to address these needs.

Materials and methods: In this observational study, we interviewed and observed care teams in 9 community health centers in Oregon and Washington to understand their use of the EHR when caring for patients with complex medical and socioeconomic needs. Data were analyzed using a comparative approach to identify EHR users' information needs, which were then used to produce EHR design principles.

Results: Analyses of > 300 hours of observations and 51 interviews identified 4 major categories of information needs related to: consistency of social determinants of health (SDH) documentation; SDH information prioritization and changes to this prioritization; initiation and follow-up of community resource referrals; and timely communication of SDH information. Within these categories were 10 unmet information needs to be addressed by EHR designers. We propose the following EHR design principles to address these needs: enhance the flexibility of EHR documentation workflows; expand the ability to exchange information within teams and between systems; balance innovation and standardization of health information technology systems; organize and simplify information displays; and prioritize and reduce information.

Conclusion: Developing EHR tools that are simple, accessible, easy to use, and able to be updated by a range of professionals is critical. The identified information needs and design principles should inform developers and implementers working in community health centers and other settings where complex patients receive care.

Keywords: community health centers, qualitative research; electronic health records; primary health care; social determinants of health.

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Medicine
  • Community Health Centers / organization & administration
  • Documentation
  • Electronic Health Records*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Patient Care Team*
  • Primary Health Care
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Social Determinants of Health*
  • Workflow