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Performance of a cognitive load inventory during simulated handoffs: Evidence for validity



Advancing patient safety during handoffs remains a public health priority. The application of cognitive load theory offers promise, but is currently limited by the inability to measure cognitive load types.


To develop and collect validity evidence for a revised self-report inventory that measures cognitive load types during a handoff.


Based on prior published work, input from experts in cognitive load theory and handoffs, and a think-aloud exercise with residents, a revised Cognitive Load Inventory for Handoffs was developed. The Cognitive Load Inventory for Handoffs has items for intrinsic, extraneous, and germane load. Students who were second- and sixth-year students recruited from a Dutch medical school participated in four simulated handoffs (two simple and two complex cases). At the end of each handoff, study participants completed the Cognitive Load Inventory for Handoffs, Paas' Cognitive Load Scale, and one global rating item for intrinsic load, extraneous load, and germane load, respectively. Factor and correlational analyses were performed to collect evidence for validity.


Confirmatory factor analysis yielded a single factor that combined intrinsic and germane loads. The extraneous load items performed poorly and were removed from the model. The score from the combined intrinsic and germane load items associated, as predicted by cognitive load theory, with a commonly used measure of overall cognitive load (Pearson's r = 0.83, p < 0.001), case complexity (beta = 0.74, p < 0.001), level of experience (beta = -0.96, p < 0.001), and handoff accuracy (r = -0.34, p < 0.001).


These results offer encouragement that intrinsic load during handoffs may be measured via a self-report measure. Additional work is required to develop an adequate measure of extraneous load.

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