The EHR and building the patient's story: a qualitative investigation of how EHR use obstructs a vital clinical activity

Lara Varpio*, Judy Rashotte, Kathy Day, James King, Craig Kuziemsky, Avi Parush

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Recent research has suggested that using electronic health records (EHRs) can negatively impact clinical reasoning (CR) and interprofessional collaborative practices (ICPs). Understanding the benefits and obstacles that EHR use introduces into clinical activities is essential for improving medical documentation, while also supporting CR and ICP. Methods: This qualitative study was a longitudinal pre/post investigation of the impact of EHR implementation on CR and ICP at a large pediatric hospital. We collected data via observations, interviews, document analysis, and think-aloud/-after sessions. Using constructivist Grounded Theory's iterative cycles of data collection and analysis, we identified and explored an emerging theme that clinicians described as central to their CR and ICP activities: building the patient's story. We studied how building the patient's story was impacted by the introduction and implementation of an EHR. Results: Clinicians described the patient's story as a cognitive awareness and overview understanding of the patient's (1) current status, (2) relevant history, (3) data patterns that emerged during care, and (4) the future-oriented care plan. Constructed by consolidating and interpreting a wide array of patient data, building the patient's story was described as a vitally important skill that was required to provide patient-centered care, within an interprofessional team, that safeguards patient safety and clinicians' professional credibility. Our data revealed that EHR use obstructed clinicians' ability to build the patient's story by fragmenting data interconnections. Further, the EHR limited the number and size of free-text spaces available for narrative notes. This constraint inhibited clinicians' ability to read the why and how interpretations of clinical activities from other team members. This resulted in the loss of shared interprofessional understanding of the patient's story, and the increased time required to build the patient's story. Conclusions: We discuss these findings in relation to research on the role of narratives for enabling CR and ICP. We conclude that EHRs have yet to truly fulfill their promise to support clinicians in their patient care activities, including the essential work of building the patient's story.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1019-1028
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Medical Informatics
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Clinical reasoning
  • Electronic health records
  • Interprofessional team collaboration
  • Narrative
  • Patient story


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