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Communication in the Electronic Age: an Analysis of Face-to-Face Physician-Nurse Communication in the Emergency Department


We describe the patterns and content of nurse to physician verbal conversations in three emergency departments (EDs) with electronic health records. Emergency medicine physicians and nurses were observed for 2 h periods. Researchers used paper notes to document the characteristics (e.g., partners involved, location of communication, who initiated communication) and content of nurse to physician conversations. Eighteen emergency nurses and physicians (nine each) were observed for a total of 36 h. Two hundred and fifty-five unique communication events were recorded across three emergency departments spread evenly across day, evening, and night shifts. A qualitative analysis of communication event content revealed 5 types of communication and 13 content themes. Content themes covered a broad range of topics including exchange of patient health information, management of the ED, and coordination of orders. Physician participants experienced significantly more communication events than nurse participants, while nurses initiated significantly more communication events than physicians. Most of the communication events occurred at the physician workstation followed by patient treatment areas. This study describes nature of verbal nurse to physician communication in the ED. Direct communication is still used to communicate important information, such as information about patients’ status, in EDs with established electronic health records. Our results provide an overview of information exchanged in the ED which can serve as a basis for designing improved information support systems.

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This work was supported by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (R01HHS022542) (PI: RJF). Ms. Benda is supported by the National Science Foundation’s graduate research fellowship program (1117218). The authors have no conflicts of interest to report.

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Correspondence to Natalie C. Benda.

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Benda, N.C., Hettinger, A.Z., Bisantz, A.M. et al. Communication in the Electronic Age: an Analysis of Face-to-Face Physician-Nurse Communication in the Emergency Department. J Healthc Inform Res 1, 218–230 (2017).

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  • Emergency department communication
  • Nurse-physician communication
  • Verbal communication
  • Electronic health records