An exploration into physician and surgeon data sensemaking: a qualitative systematic review using thematic synthesis

Emma Whitelock-Wainwright, Jia Wei Koh, Alex Whitelock-Wainwright, Stella Talic, David Rankin, Dragan Gašević

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Providing electronic health data to medical practitioners to reflect on their performance can lead to improved clinical performance and quality of care. Understanding the sensemaking process that is enacted when practitioners are presented with such data is vital to ensure an improvement in performance. Thus, the primary objective of this research was to explore physician and surgeon sensemaking when presented with electronic health data associated with their clinical performance. A systematic literature review was conducted to analyse qualitative research that explored physicians and surgeons experiences with electronic health data associated with their clinical performance published between January 2010 and March 2022. Included articles were assessed for quality, thematically synthesised, and discussed from the perspective of sensemaking. The initial search strategy for this review returned 8,829 articles that were screened at title and abstract level. Subsequent screening found 11 articles that met the eligibility criteria and were retained for analyses. Two articles met all of the standards within the chosen quality assessment (Standards for Reporting Qualitative Research, SRQR). Thematic synthesis generated five overarching themes: data communication, performance reflection, infrastructure, data quality, and risks. The confidence of such findings is reported using CERQual (Confidence in the Evidence from Reviews of Qualitative research). The way the data is communicated can impact sensemaking which has implications on what is learned and has impact on future performance. Many factors including data accuracy, validity, infrastructure, culture can also impact sensemaking and have ramifications on future practice. Providing data in order to support performance reflection is not without risks, both behavioural and affective. The latter of which can impact the practitioner’s ability to effectively make sense of the data. An important consideration when data is presented with the intent to improve performance. Registration This systematic review was registered with Prospero, registration number: CRD42020197392.

Original languageEnglish
Article number256
Number of pages23
JournalBMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 28 Sept 2022


  • Continued professional development
  • Digital health
  • Lifelong learning
  • Performance reflection
  • Physicians and surgeons
  • Practice analytics
  • Professional learning
  • Sensemaking

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