Understanding the Information Needs and Context of Trauma Handoffs to Design Automated Sensing Clinical Documentation Technologies: Qualitative Mixed-Method Study of Military and Civilian Cases

J Med Internet Res. 2020 Sep 25;22(9):e17978. doi: 10.2196/17978.


Background: Current methods of communication between the point of injury and receiving medical facilities rely on verbal communication, supported by brief notes and the memory of the field medic. This communication can be made more complete and reliable with technologies that automatically document the actions of field medics. However, designing state-of-the-art technology for military field personnel and civilian first responders is challenging due to the barriers researchers face in accessing the environment and understanding situated actions and cognitive models employed in the field.

Objective: To identify design insights for an automated sensing clinical documentation (ASCD) system, we sought to understand what information is transferred in trauma cases between prehospital and hospital personnel, and what contextual factors influence the collection, management, and handover of information in trauma cases, in both military and civilian cases.

Methods: Using a multi-method approach including video review and focus groups, we developed an understanding of the information needs of trauma handoffs and the context of field documentation to inform the design of an automated sensing documentation system that uses wearables, cameras, and environmental sensors to passively infer clinical activity and automatically produce documentation.

Results: Comparing military and civilian trauma documentation and handoff, we found similarities in the types of data collected and the prioritization of information. We found that military environments involved many more contextual factors that have implications for design, such as the physical environment (eg, heat, lack of lighting, lack of power) and the potential for active combat and triage, creating additional complexity.

Conclusions: An ineffectiveness of communication is evident in both the civilian and military worlds. We used multiple methods of inquiry to study the information needs of trauma care and handoff, and the context of medical work in the field. Our findings informed the design and evaluation of an automated documentation tool. The data illustrated the need for more accurate recordkeeping, specifically temporal aspects, during transportation, and characterized the environment in which field testing of the developed tool will take place. The employment of a systems perspective in this project produced design insights that our team would not have identified otherwise. These insights created exciting and interesting challenges for the technical team to resolve.

Keywords: documentation; emergency; health records; hospital; military field medicine; trauma; trauma handoffs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Documentation / methods*
  • Electronic Data Processing / methods*
  • Humans
  • Military Personnel
  • Patient Handoff / standards*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Wounds and Injuries / therapy*