Dental Hygienists’ Information Needs Assessment

David Kirkhoff
David Kirkhoff
St. Olaf Colelge

David Kirkhoff, Kelsey Schwei, Amit Acharya
Institute for Oral and Systemic Health, Biomedical Informatics Research Center

Research area: Dental Informatics 

Background: Similar to dentists, dental hygienists (DHs) are involved in retrieving and documenting patient data as part of their decision-making process. Switching between medical, dental, and medication histories, radiographs, and hard tissue charting complicates this process. The archaic periodontal chart must be updated to include information crucial to the DHs’ needs. The objective of this study was to assess the workflow and information needs of DHs and to aid in the design of a smart periodontal charting interface.
Method: Two methodologies were used: cognitive task analysis (CTA) and ethnographic observations. For the CTA sessions, three fictitious patient profiles were created and reviewed by a dentist. The DHs were presented with pieces of information regarding the fictitious patient and were asked to think aloud about what pieces of information they would like to review in the decision-making process. The sessions were audio and video recorded, transcribed, and coded as the following activities: information retrieval, decision making, information processing, and other. The notes taken during the ethnographic observation sessions were then analyzed for themes.

Results: Four DHs participated in both the CTA and observation sessions. For CTA sessions, medical history was reviewed first 8/12 times. The participants devoted an average of 41.3% (SD =7.2%) to information retrieval, 36.2% (SD =7.2%) to decision making, 9.2% (SD =4.3%) to information processing, and 12.9% (SD =13.2%) to other. During the observation sessions, all participants used the universal numbering system to record probe depths using the keyboard. Participants often navigated away from the periodontal chart to consult radiographs during the patient exam.

Conclusion: DHs devoted a significant amount of effort to retrieving and reviewing patient information and spent considerably less time processing that information. Including a link to radiographs and medical histories in the periodontal chart would increase efficiencies in workflow.