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A grounded theory model of on‐duty critical care nurses' information behavior: The patient‐chart cycle of informative interactions

Michelynn McKnight (School of Library and Information Science, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Article publication date: 23 January 2007




Critical care nurses' work is rich in informative interactions. Although there have been post‐hoc self report studies of nurses' information seeking, there have been no observational studies of the patterns of their on‐duty information behavior. This paper seeks to address this issue.


This study used participant observation and in context interviews to describe 50 hours of the observable information behavior of a representative sample of critical care nurses in a 20‐bed critical care unit of a community (non‐teaching) hospital. The researcher used open, in vivo and axial coding to develop a grounded theory model of their consistent pattern of multimedia interactions.


The resulting Nurse's Patient‐Chart Cycle describes their activities during the shift as centering on a regular alternation between interactions with the patient and with the patient's chart (in various record systems), clearly bounded with nursing “report” interactions at the beginning and the end of the shift. The nurses' demeanor markedly changed between interactions with the chart and interactions with the patient. Their attention was focused on patient‐specific information. They had almost no time or opportunity to consult published sources of information while on duty.


Libraries often provide nurses with information services that are based on academic models of information behavior. Clinical information systems are designed more for medico‐legal record keeping than for nursing care. Understanding the reality of nurses' on‐duty information behavior may guide librarians and systems designers in the provision of more appropriate systems and services.



McKnight, M. (2007), "A grounded theory model of on‐duty critical care nurses' information behavior: The patient‐chart cycle of informative interactions", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 63 No. 1, pp. 57-73.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2007, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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