Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Health Related Sciences

First Advisor

Clarence J. Biddle


With the increasing focus on patient safety and human error, understanding how practitioners make decisions during critical incidents is important. Despite the move towards evidence-based practice, research shows that much decision making is based on intuition and heuristics (“rules of thumb”). The purpose of this study was to examine and evaluate the methodologic feasibility of a strategy for comparing traditional cognition versus the use of algorithms programmed on a personal digital assistant (FDA) in the management of unanticipated critical events by certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs).

A combined qualitative-quantitative methodology was utilized. The quantitative element consists of a pilot study using a cross-over trial design. Two case scenarios were carried out in a full-scale, high fidelity, simulated anesthesia care delivery environment. Four subjects participated in both scenarios, one without and one with a PDA containing a catalog of approximately 30 events with diagnostic and treatment related information in second scenario. Audio—videotaping of the scenarios allowed for definitive descriptive analysis of items of interest, including time to correct diagnosis and definitive intervention. The qualitative approach consisted of a phenomenological investigation of problem solving and perceptions of FDA use and the simulation experience by the participants using “think aloud” and retrospective verbal reports, semi-structured group interviews, and written evaluations.

Qualitative results revealed that participants found the PDA algorithms useful despite some minor technical difficulties and the simulated environment and case scenarios realistic, but also described feelings of expectation, anxiety, and pressure. Problem solving occurred in a hypothetico-deductive manner. More hypotheses were considered when using the PDA. Time to correct diagnosis and treatment varied by scenario, taking less time with the PDA for one but taking longer with the PDA for the other, likely due to differences in pace and intensity of the two scenarios. The methodologic investigation revealed several areas for improvement including more precise control of case scenarios. All participants agreed with the value of using high fidelity simulation, particularly for problem solving of critical events, and provided useful information for more effective utilization of this tool for education and research.


Scanned, with permission from the author, from the original print version, which resides in University Archives.


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