Topic-specific Infobuttons Reduce Search Time but their Clinical Impact is Unclear

Shandra Protzko


A Review of:
Del Fiol, Guilherme, Peter J. Haug, James J. Cimino, Scott P. Narus, Chuck Norlin, and Joyce A. Mitchell. ‚Effectiveness of Topic-specific Infobuttons: A Randomized Controlled Trial.‛ Journal of the American Medical Information Association 15.6 (2008): 752-9.

Objective – To assess whether infobutton links that direct users to specific content topics (‚topic links‛) are more effective in answering clinical questions than links that direct users to general overview content (‚nonspecific links‛).

Design – Randomized control trial.

Setting – Intermountain Healthcare, an integrated system of 21 hospitals and over 120 outpatient clinics located in Utah and southeastern Idaho.

Subjects – Ninety clinicians and 3,729 infobutton sessions.

Methods – To ensure comparable group composition, subjects were paired and randomly allocated to the study groups. Clinicians in the intervention group had access to topic links, while those in the control group had access to nonspecific links. All subjects at Intermountain Healthcare use a Web-based electronic medical record system (EMR) called HELP2 Clinical Desktop with integrated infobutton links. An Infobutton Manager application defines the content topics and resources; in this case, Micromedex® (Thomson Healthcare, Englewood, CO) provided access to the topic links. The medication order entry module, the most popular of the outpatient modules, was selected to test the two configurations of infobuttons. A focus group of seven HELP2 users aided the researchers in determining the most salient topics to be displayed as a part of the intervention group's user-interface. The study measured infobutton session duration, or time spent seeking information, the number of infobutton sessions conducted, and the outcome and impact of the information seeking. A post-session questionnaire displayed randomly in 30% of sessions measured outcome and impact. The study was conducted between May and November, 2007. This project was funded in part by the National Library of Medicine.
Main Results – Subjects in the intervention group spent 17.4% less time seeking information than those in the control group (35.5 seconds vs. 43 seconds, p = 0.008). The intervention group used infobuttons 20.5% more often (22 sessions vs. 17.5 sessions, p = 0.21) than those in the control group, a difference that was not statistically significant. Twenty-five subjects answered the post-session survey at least once for a total of 115 (9.9%) responses out of 1,161 possible sessions. The information seeking success rate was equally high in both groups (87.2% intervention vs. 89.4% control, p = .099). Subjects reported high positive clinical impact (i.e., decision enhancement or learning) in 62% of successful sessions. Subjects conveyed a moderate or high level of frustration in 80% of responses associated with unsuccessful sessions.

Conclusion – Topic links provide a slight advantage in the clinical decision-making process by reducing the amount of time spent searching. But while the session length difference between the control and intervention groups is statistically significant, it is less clear whether the difference is clinically meaningful. As previous studies have indicated, infobuttons are able to answer clinical medication questions with a high success rate. It is unclear whether topic links have a clinically significant impact, or rather, whether they are more effective than nonspecific links. The authors believe that the study results ‚should generalize to high-frequency, medication-related infobutton users in other institutions‛ (758).


infobuttons; electronic medical records; EMR; decision support systems

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