“Infobuttons” are context-specific links from one information system (usually a clinical information system such as an electronic health record) to some other resource that provides information that might be relevant to the initial context.  Infobuttons are used to anticipate users’ information needs and provide them with easy ways to obtain answers to resolve those needs.  For example, a nurse reviewing a patient’s laboratory results may wish to know the implications of a particular result.  Click here to learn more about infobuttons.


In many cases, the number of possible information needs may be large, and they might differ, based on the situation.  For example, if the laboratory result being reviewed is a potassium test, then the user might want to know the implications of an abnormality, whereas if it is a syphilis test, the user might want to look up the latest treatment guidelines.  If, however, the test is a drug level, then questions might arise about the dose and side effects of the drug, while the user might want to know about special contraindications if the patient is of child-bearing age.  The information needs may even vary depending on the user (e.g., student, nurse, or physician) and the resource used to resolve each need may vary with the user’s setting (ICU, ER or clinic) and may depend on the specific guidelines or software licenses of the user’s institution.


In order to address these complexities, several informatics research groups have developed “infobutton managers” that can match the user’s contextual information against a knowledge base of information needs in order to propose a select list of topics that may be most likely of interest.  Each topic is, in turn, a customized link to a resource, intended to obtain topic-specific information.  For example, if a user is reviewing a patient’s prothrombin type (a test of blood coagulation), an infobutton manager might provide links to various references about drugs that affect prothrombin time (such as warfarin sodium).  If the patient is an adolescent or adult female, some of the links might be specifically related to pregnancy and breastfeeding recommendations.  If the patient is a patient at New York Presbyterian Hospital, a link will be provided to the relevant age-specific hospital guidelines for the use of warfarin sodium.  For papers on the infobutton manager implementation at Columbia University, click here and here.  A simple mockup of what an infobutton looks and acts like in a clinical information system is here.  Click anywhere on the screen to evoke the Infobutton Manager (but if you click on the infobutton icon, it will look more realistic).  The Infobutton Manager page that you get is real.  Some of the links may not work if you are not on the Columbia campus.


Following the initial development of infobutton managers, Health Level Seven (HL7) has established a standard method for linking clinical information systems to infobutton managers and for linking infobutton managers to electronic knowledge resources.  Information about the HL7 standard for infobutton managers is available here.  HL7-compliant infobutton managers are in various stages of development.  One that is currently available for free use is from the Open Infobutton project.


However, the customization of an infobutton manager is not a simple task.  In order to properly use an infobutton manager, you will need to have a clear understanding of your users’ information needs, know what resources are available to your institution for resolving those needs, understand how to automatically link to those resources, and identify the terminologies used in your system that can help with automating information retrieval.  In order to help those interested in customizing infobutton manager for their own use, the National Library of Medicine and the University of Utah are developing the Librarian Infobutton Tailoring Environment (LITE).  This tool allows non-technical personnel (such as clinicians and librarians) to specify the resources that an infobutton manager should provide, given a specific set of circumstances (for example, a nurse reviewing an adolescent female patient’s potassium test result).  To learn more about LITE, click here.


(Last updated December 29, 2011)