Managing the tension between caring and charting: Labor and delivery nurses' experiences of the electronic health record

Kirsten Wisner, Catherine A. Chesla, Joanne Spetz, Audrey Lyndon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Over a decade following the nationwide push to implement electronic health records (EHRs), the focus has shifted to addressing the cognitive burden associated with their use. Most research and discourse about the EHR's impact on clinicians' cognitive work has focused on physicians rather than on nursing-specific issues. Labor and delivery nurses may encounter unique challenges when using EHRs because they also interact with an electronic fetal monitoring system, continuously managing and synthesizing both maternal and fetal data. This grounded theory study explored labor and delivery nurses' perceptions of the EHR's impact on their cognitive work. Data were individual interviews and participant observations with twenty-one nurses from two labor and delivery units in the western U.S. and were analyzed using dimensional analysis. Nurses managed the tension between caring and charting using various strategies to integrate the EHR into their dynamic, high-acuity, specialty practice environment while using EHRs that were not designed for perinatal patients. Use of the EHR and associated technologies disrupted nurses' ability to locate and synthesize information, maintain an overview of the patient's status, and connect with patients and families. Individual-, group-, and environmental-level factors facilitated or constrained nurses' integration of the EHR. These findings represent critical safety failures requiring comprehensive changes to EHR designs and better processes for responding to end-user experiences. More research is needed to develop EHRs that support the dynamic and relationship-based nature of nurses' work and to align with specialty practice environments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)822-832
Number of pages11
JournalResearch in Nursing and Health
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2021


  • cognitive work
  • electronic health record
  • labor and delivery
  • situation awareness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Nursing


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