How searching under time pressure impacts clinical decision making


  • Anton van der Vegt School of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering, University of Queensland, Brisbane
  • Guido Zuccon School of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering, University of Queensland, Brisbane
  • Bevan Koopman CSIRO, Canberra
  • Anthony Deacon University of Queensland, Brisbane



Clinical Decision Making, Information Retrieval, Medical Search


Objective: Clinicians encounter many questions during patient encounters that they cannot answer. While search systems (e.g., PubMed) can help clinicians find answers, clinicians are typically busy and report that they often do not have sufficient time to use such systems. The objective of this study was to assess the impact of time pressure on clinical decisions made with the use of a medical literature search system.

Design: In stage 1, 109 final-year medical students and practicing clinicians were presented with 16 clinical questions that they had to answer using their own knowledge. In stage 2, the participants were provided with a search system, similar to PubMed, to help them to answer the same 16 questions, and time pressure was simulated by limiting the participant’s search time to 3, 6, or 9 minutes per question.

Results: Under low time pressure, the correct answer rate significantly improved by 32% when the participants used the search system, whereas under high time pressure, this improvement was only 6%. Also, under high time pressure, participants reported significantly lower confidence in the answers, higher perception of task difficulty, and higher stress levels.

Conclusions: For clinicians and health care organizations operating in increasingly time-pressured environments, literature search systems become less effective at supporting accurate clinical decisions. For medical search system developers, this study indicates that system designs that provide faster information retrieval and analysis, rather than traditional document search, may provide more effective alternatives.


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Original Investigation