The electronic health record's impact on nurses’ cognitive work: An integrative review

Kirsten Wisner, Audrey Lyndon, Catherine A. Chesla

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Background: Technology use can impact human performance and cognitive function, but few studies have sought to understand the electronic health record's impact on these dimensions of nurses’ work. Objective: The purpose of this review was to synthesize the literature on the electronic health record's impact on nurses’ cognitive work. Design: Integrative review. Data sources: MEDLINE/PubMed, CINAHL, Embase, Web of Science, and PsycINFO. Review methods: The literature search focused on 3 concepts: the electronic health record, cognition, and nursing practice, and yielded 4910 articles. Following a stepwise process of duplicate removal, title and abstract review, full text review, and reference list searches, a total of 18 studies were included: 12 qualitative, 4 mixed-methods, and 2 quantitative studies from the United States (13), Scandinavia (2), Australia (1), Austria (1), and Canada (1). The Mixed Methods Appraisal Tool was used to assess the quality of eligible studies. Results: Five themes identified how nurses and other clinicians used the electronic health record and perceived its impact: 1) forming and maintaining an overview of the patient, 2) cognitive work of navigating the electronic health record, 3) use of cognitive tools, 4) forming and maintaining a shared understanding of the patient, and 5) loss of information and professional domain knowledge. Most studies indicated that forming and maintaining an overview of the patient at both the individual and team level were difficult when using the electronic health record. Navigating the volumes of information was challenging and increased clinicians’ cognitive work. Information was perceived to be scattered and fragmented, making it difficult to see the chronology of events and to situate and understand the clinical implications of various data. The template-driven nature of documentation and limitations on narrative notes restricted clinicians’ ability to express their clinical reasoning and decipher the reasoning of colleagues. Summary reports and handoff tools in the electronic health record proved insufficient as stand-alone tools to support nurses’ work throughout the shift and during handoff, causing them to rely on self-made paper forms. Nurses needed tools that facilitated their ability to individualize and contextualize information in order to make it clinically meaningful. Conclusion: The electronic health record was perceived by nurses as an impediment to contextualizing and synthesizing information, communicating with other professionals, and structuring patient care. Synthesizing and communicating information at the individual and team levels are known drivers of patient safety. The findings from this review have implications for electronic health record design.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)74-84
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Nursing Studies
StatePublished - Jun 2019


  • Clinical grasp
  • Cognitive work
  • Communication
  • Computerized documentation
  • Electronic health record
  • Integrative review
  • Perception
  • Situation awareness
  • Unintended consequences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Nursing


Dive into the research topics of 'The electronic health record's impact on nurses’ cognitive work: An integrative review'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this