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J Adv Nurs. 2004 Feb;45(3):280-6.

Nurses' views of using computerized decision support software in NHS Direct.

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MRC Fellow, Medical Care Research Unit, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK.



Nurses working in NHS Direct, the 24-hour telephone advice line in England, use computerized decision support software to recommend to callers the most appropriate service to contact, or to advise on self-care.


To explore nurses' views of their roles and the computerized decision support software in NHS Direct.


Qualitative analysis of semi-structured interviews with 24 NHS Direct nurses in 12 sites.


Nurses described both the software and themselves as essential to the clinical decision-making process. The software acted as safety net, provider of consistency, and provider of script, and was relied upon more when nurses did not have clinical knowledge relevant to the call. The nurse handled problems not covered by the software, probed patients for the appropriate information to enter into the software, and interpreted software recommendations in the light of contextual information which the software was unable to use. Nurses described a dual process of decision-making, with the nurse as active decision maker looking for consensus with the software recommendation and ready to override recommendations made by the software if necessary. However, nurses' accounts of the software as a guide, prompt or support did not fully acknowledge the power of the software, which they are required to use, and the recommendation of which they are required to follow under some management policies. Over time, the influence of nurse and software merges as nurses internalize the software script as their own knowledge, and navigate the software to produce recommendations that they feel are most appropriate.


The nurse and the software have distinct roles in NHS Direct, although the effect of each on the clinical decision-making process may be difficult to determine in practice.

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