Investigating heterogeneity in physician use of electronic medical records : the role of professional values and perspectives of uncertainty

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Lanham, Holly Jordan

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While information systems researchers have argued well from socio-technical and organizational culture perspectives that information technology (IT) and organizational structures are interdependent and continually reshape each other, few studies have sought fine-grained, micro-level explanations for the heterogeneity in IT use often observed across seemingly similar end users and seemingly similar work contexts. Using a nested comparative case study design, I explore electronic medical record (EMR) use by physicians in an integrated multi-specialty health care organization. I use multiple methods to observe and develop micro-level understandings of factors associated with EMR use. The study was conducted in eight practices operating within the same organization. Data collection methods included semi-structured interviews, non-participant observations, and questionnaires. A constant comparative approach guided data analysis. Differences in physician values were noted, as were differences in physician perspectives of uncertainty. I categorized physicians as high, medium and low EMR users depending on a variety of factors including degree to which the EMR was integrated into work practices, degree of feature use, and degree of EMR-enabled communication. Drawing on theories of professionalism, I explain between-physician heterogeneity in EMR use as partly a function of differences in dimensionality of professional values. Three dimensions of professional values were identified 1) profession-oriented, 2) patient-oriented and 3) organization-oriented. Drawing on complexity theory, I argue that differences in physician perspectives of uncertainty influence their EMR use. I found that physicians who viewed uncertainty primarily as reducible through information tended to be higher users of the EMR. Physicians who viewed uncertainty as fundamental, or inherent, in care delivery processes tended to be lower users of the EMR. This study contributes to information systems research by extending current understandings of IT use. The professional values held by physicians and their perspectives of uncertainty may be more important in shaping EMR use than previously thought. These findings indicate the need to more aggressively pursue EMR designs, implementation strategies and policies that accommodate these two additional factors. Additionally, findings from this research indicate a need for IT managers in professional settings to consider end-user professional values and perspectives of uncertainty in decisions involving IT assets.



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