Original Research

Cognition, Technology & Work

, Volume 13, Issue 1, pp 11-29

First online:

Cognitive performance-altering effects of electronic medical records: an application of the human factors paradigm for patient safety

  • Richard J. HoldenAffiliated withSchool of Medicine and Public Health, University of Wisconsin-MadisonDivision of Ergonomics, School of Technology and Health, Royal Institute of TechnologyCenter for Quality and Productivity Improvement, University of Wisconsin-Madison Email author 

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According to the human factors paradigm for patient safety, health care work systems and innovations such as electronic medical records do not have direct effects on patient safety. Instead, their effects are contingent on how the clinical work system, whether computerized or not, shapes health care providers’ performance of cognitive work processes. An application of the human factors paradigm to interview data from two hospitals in the Midwest United States yielded numerous examples of the performance-altering effects of electronic medical records, electronic clinical documentation, and computerized provider order entry. Findings describe both improvements and decrements in the ease and quality of cognitive performance, both for interviewed clinicians and for their colleagues and patients. Changes in cognitive performance appear to have desirable and undesirable implications for patient safety as well as for quality of care and other important outcomes. Cognitive performance can also be traced to interactions between work system elements, including new technology, allowing for the discovery of problems with “fit” to be addressed through design interventions.


Human factors Health information technology Electronic medical records Patient safety Cognitive work performance