Which clinical decisions benefit from automation? A task complexity approach

Vitali Sintchenko*, Enrico W. Coiera

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: To describe a model for analysing complex medical decision making tasks and for evaluating their suitability for automation. Method: Assessment of a decision task's complexity in terms of the number of elementary information processes (EIPs) and the potential for cognitive effort reduction through EIP minimisation using an automated decision aid. Results: The model consists of five steps: (1) selection of the domain and relevant tasks; (2) evaluation of the knowledge complexity for tasks selected; (3) identification of cognitively demanding tasks; (4) assessment of unaided and aided effort requirements for this task accomplishment; and (5) selection of computational tools to achieve this complexity reduction. The model is applied to the task of antibiotic prescribing in critical care and the most complex components of the task identified. Decision aids to support these components can provide a significant reduction of cognitive effort suggesting this is a decision task worth automating. Conclusion: We view the role of decision support for complex decision to be one of task complexity reduction, and the model described allows for task automation without lowering decision quality and can assist decision support systems developers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)309-316
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Journal of Medical Informatics
Issue number2-3
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Antibiotic prescribing
  • Computerised decision support
  • Medical decision-making
  • Task complexity


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