CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 · Appl Clin Inform 2021; 12(03): 417-428
DOI: 10.1055/s-0041-1730033
Review Article

Use, Impact, Weaknesses, and Advanced Features of Search Functions for Clinical Use in Electronic Health Records: A Scoping Review

Jordan R. Hill
1   Department of Medicine, Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, Indiana, United States
Shyam Visweswaran
2   Department of Biomedical Informatics, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States
Xia Ning
3   Department of Biomedical Informatics, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, United States
4   Department of Computer Science and Engineering, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, United States
5   Translational Data Analytics Institute, The Ohio State University, Ohio, United States
Titus K. Schleyer
1   Department of Medicine, Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, Indiana, United States
6   Center for Biomedical Informatics, Regenstrief Institute, Indianapolis, Indiana, United States
› Author Affiliations
Funding This project was made possible, in part, by support from the National Library of Medicine (Grant Nos. R01LM012605–01A1 and R01LM012095), the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (Grant No. 1R01HS027185–01A1), with support from the Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute (funded in part by Award Number UL1TR002529 from the National Institutes of Health, National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences) Clinical and Translational Sciences Award, and the Lilly Endowment, Inc. Physician Scientist Initiative. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the funding agencies.


Objective Although vast amounts of patient information are captured in electronic health records (EHRs), effective clinical use of this information is challenging due to inadequate and inefficient access to it at the point of care. The purpose of this study was to conduct a scoping review of the literature on the use of EHR search functions within a single patient's record in clinical settings to characterize the current state of research on the topic and identify areas for future study.

Methods We conducted a literature search of four databases to identify articles on within-EHR search functions or the use of EHR search function in the context of clinical tasks. After reviewing titles and abstracts and performing a full-text review of selected articles, we included 17 articles in the analysis. We qualitatively identified themes in those articles and synthesized the literature for each theme.

Results Based on the 17 articles analyzed, we delineated four themes: (1) how clinicians use search functions, (2) impact of search functions on clinical workflow, (3) weaknesses of current search functions, and (4) advanced search features. Our review found that search functions generally facilitate patient information retrieval by clinicians and are positively received by users. However, existing search functions have weaknesses, such as yielding false negatives and false positives, which can decrease trust in the results, and requiring a high cognitive load to perform an inclusive search of a patient's record.

Conclusion Despite the widespread adoption of EHRs, only a limited number of articles describe the use of EHR search functions in a clinical setting, despite evidence that they benefit clinician workflow and productivity. Some of the weaknesses of current search functions may be addressed by enhancing EHR search functions with collaborative filtering.

Protection of Human and Animal Subjects

No human or animal subjects were involved in this study.

Publication History

Received: 22 January 2021

Accepted: 30 March 2021

Article published online:
14 July 2021

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