How video observation can improve health IT efforts

Danish research reviewing nine case studies using video observation argue that the method can be an effective tool for understanding clinical practice. And understanding clinical workflow, the study's authors say, can be integral to improving health information technology development.

While traditional study methods ask what clinicians say they do during their daily work, they don't always include all of their actual activity because some aspects of a job become second nature. Video, in this regard, can capture their actual practice--even those tacit aspects of the job--according to the research article published at BMC Medical Informatics & Decision Making.

The nine case studies, videotaped in various hospital wards, took place between 2004 and 2011. They were varied--one detailed the medication process in a cardiology department, while another sought to understand, from clinicians' views, the implementation of an electronic health record system by chronicling their work before and after. 

The researchers don't report results from any of the studies, but instead look at video observation as a research tool. Video observation, can be useful in four ways, according to the researchers:

  • Informing and improving system design;
  • Studying changes in work practice;
  • Identifying new potentials;
  • Documenting current work practices.

In sharing lessons learned, the article delineates three phases of a video observation project:

  • Planning: A clear objective is paramount. It's best to study specific tasks rather than trying to capture a range of practice. That clear focus can help keep researchers from being overwhelmed with data or distracted.
  • Data-collection: Make the camera and videographer as unobtrusive as possible to most clearly capture work being done in the normal way.
  • Data-analysis and interpretation: Here, that clear objective pays off in spades. The authors stress the importance of sharing the results with clinicians to gain better insight into what the findings mean.

One of video observation's biggest assets is the ability to go back multiple times to understand the work without actually having it repeated. It allows researchers to be a fly on the wall, or to follow clinicians around while they explain what they're doing, which can be especially helpful if they will not be available to discuss it later.

Having a clear objective and being as transparent as possible can help researchers sell the idea of video observation to administration as a study worth pursing, the authors say.

While video's role in training new clinicians is growing on mobile devices, new uses of video observation also are cropping up. A procedure developed at Harvard Medical School allows parents to post a video online and take a seven-question test to fast-track a diagnosis of autism.

Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Minnesota are using Microsoft's Kinect technology to diagnose autism from the movements of preschool children.

To learn more:
- read the research
- here's the abstract


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