Team Dynamics in Hospital Workflows: An Exploratory Study of a Smartphone Task Manager

JMIR Med Inform. 2021 Aug 16;9(8):e28245. doi: 10.2196/28245.


Background: Although convenient and reliable modern messaging apps like WhatsApp enable efficient communication among hospital staff, hospitals are now pivoting toward purpose-built structured communication apps for various reasons, including security and privacy concerns. However, there is limited understanding of how we can examine and improve hospital workflows using the data collected through such apps as an alternative to costly and challenging research methods like ethnography and patient record analysis.

Objective: We seek to identify whether the structure of the collected communication data provides insights into hospitals' workflows. Our analysis also aims to identify ways in which task management platforms can be improved and designed to better support clinical workflows.

Methods: We present an exploratory analysis of clinical task records collected over 22 months through a smartphone app that enables structured communication between staff to manage and execute clinical workflows. We collected over 300,000 task records between July 2018 and May 2020 completed by staff members including doctors, nurses, and pharmacists across all wards in an Australian hospital.

Results: We show that important insights into how teams function in a clinical setting can be readily drawn from task assignment data. Our analysis indicates that predefined labels such as urgency and task type are important and impact how tasks are accepted and completed. Our results show that both task sent-to-accepted (P<.001) and sent-to-completed (P<.001) times are significantly higher for routine tasks when compared to urgent tasks. We also show how task acceptance varies across teams and roles and that internal tasks are more efficiently managed than external tasks, possibly due to increased trust among team members. For example, task sent-to-accepted time (minutes) is significantly higher (P<.001) for external assignments (mean 22.10, SD 91.45) when compared to internal assignments (mean 19.03, SD 82.66).

Conclusions: Smartphone-based task assignment apps can provide unique insights into team dynamics in clinical settings. These insights can be used to further improve how well these systems support clinical work and staff.

Keywords: clinical platform; clinical workflows; hospital communication; mHealth; mobile app; smartphones; task assignment.