Hypertext versus Boolean Access to Biomedical Information

Barbara M. Wildemuth, Charles P. Friedman, Stephen M. Downs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


This study compared two modes of access to a biomedical database, in terms of their effectiveness and efficiency in supporting clinical problem solving and in terms of user preferences. Boolean access, which allowed subjects to frame their queries as combinations of keywords, was compared to hypertext access, which allowed subjects to navigate from one database node to another. The accessible biomedical data were identical across system versions. Performance data were collected from two cohorts of first-year medical students, each student randomly assigned to either the Boolean or the hypertext system. Additional attitudinal data were collected from the second cohort. At each of two research sessions (one just before and one just after their bacteriology course), subjects worked eight clinical case problems, first using only their personal knowledge and, subsequently, with aid from the database. Database retrievals enabled students to answer questions they could not answer based on personal knowledge alone. This effect was greater when personal knowledge of bacteriology was lower. There were not statistically significant differences between the two forms of access, in terms of problem-solving effectiveness or efficiency. Students preferred Boolean access over hypertext access.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)156-183
Number of pages28
JournalACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 1998
Externally publishedYes


  • Domain knowledge
  • Human Factors
  • Performance
  • intellectual access
  • medical education
  • problem solving
  • usage effectiveness
  • usage efficiency
  • user preferences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Human-Computer Interaction

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