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01.12.2012 | Research article | Ausgabe 1/2012 Open Access

BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making 1/2012

Comparison of alphabetical versus categorical display format for medication order entry in a simulated touch screen anesthesia information management system: an experiment in clinician-computer interaction in anesthesia

BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making > Ausgabe 1/2012
Anil A Marian, Franklin Dexter, Peter Tucker, Michael M Todd
Wichtige Hinweise

Electronic supplementary material

The online version of this article (doi:10.​1186/​1472-6947-12-46) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interest.

Authors’ contributions

AAM designed the study, conducted the study, analyzed the data and wrote the manuscript. FD designed the study, analyzed the data and wrote the manuscript. PT designed the study and conducted the study. MMT designed the study and wrote the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.



Anesthesia information management system (AIMS) records should be designed and configured to facilitate the accurate and prompt recording of multiple drugs administered coincidentally or in rapid succession.


We proposed two touch-screen display formats for use with our department’s new EPIC touch-screen AIMS. In one format, medication “buttons” were arranged in alphabetical order (i.e. A-C, D-H etc.). In the other, buttons were arranged in categories (Common, Fluids, Cardiovascular, Coagulation etc.). Both formats were modeled on an iPad screen to resemble the AIMS interface. Anesthesia residents, anesthesiologists, and Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (n = 60) were then asked to find and touch the correct buttons for a series of medications whose names were displayed to the side of the entry screen. The number of entries made within 2 minutes was recorded. This was done 3 times for each format, with the 1st format chosen randomly. Data were analyzed from the third trials with each format to minimize differences in learning.


The categorical format had a mean of 5.6 more drugs entered using the categorical method in two minutes than the alphabetical format (95% confidence interval [CI] 4.5 to 6.8, P < 0.0001). The findings were the same regardless of the order of testing (i.e. alphabetical-categorical vs. categorical - alphabetical) and participants’ years of clinical experience. Most anesthesia providers made no (0) errors for most trials (N = 96/120 trials, lower 95% limit 73%, P < 0.0001). There was no difference in error rates between the two formats (P = 0.53).


The use of touch-screen user interfaces in healthcare is increasingly common. Arrangement of drugs names in a categorical display format in the medication order-entry touch screen of an AIMS can result in faster data entry compared to an alphabetical arrangement of drugs. Results of this quality improvement project were used in our department’s design of our final intraoperative electronic anesthesia record. This testing approach using cognitive and usability engineering methods can be used to objectively design and evaluate many aspects of the clinician-computer interaction in electronic health records.
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