Pitt DBMI Doctoral Student Andy King Uses Eyetracking to Study Navigation of the Electronic Medical Record

(From the Autumn 2018 issue of Informatics Today, originally written in Spring 2018)


Andy King is no stranger to remaining calm in stressful situations. He’s worked as a whitewater rafting guide throughout his biomedical informatics education at the University of Pittsburgh. “I’m probably not as nervous as I should be,” Andy said about his thesis defense a week prior to the event. Asked if he’s ever had to pull any rafters from the river, Andy raised his right leg to the conference table, pulled his khakis up to his knee, and revealed a scab that ran the length of his calf. “I had to save some people last weekend,” he answered, smiling.

Andy’s academic work involves saving people in a less physical way. It’s his role as a whitewater rafting guide that has prepared him for the communications challenges that take place within critical care units in hospitals. That’s where physicians from various specialties navigate an electronic medical record built as a catchall for all patient data. Finding the information physicians need and working as a team to care for a critically ill patient has many communications challenges.

“Communication is very important on the river, both between team members and with the guests,” Andy explained. “Yelling across the rapids is useless, so we rely on both predefined and impromptu hand signals. To communicate effectively, you need to consider the other person’s understanding of the situation and then use minimal necessary signaling to achieve the desired communication.”

Andy’s thesis defense, “The Development and Evaluation of a Learning Electronic Medical Record System,” involved using machine learning to adapt the display of patient data based on eye-tracking observations of clinician information-seeking behavior. Next up for Andy after a successful defense? Working as a post-doc on an NLM training grant with Pitt Critical Care Medicine.

“Working at a rafting company, I experienced first-hand the mistakes that happen when there is not an explicitly defined process in place,” Andy said. “Many mistakes are common between raft guiding and health care: missing equipment, bystander effect if a task isn’t explicitly assigned, different team members having different priorities, differences in how different leaders prefer to operate.” For more about Andy’s work, visit www.andrewjking.com.