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Visualizing Magnitude: Graphical Number Representations Help Users Detect Large Number Entry Errors


Nurses frequently have to program infusion pumps to deliver a prescribed quantity of drug over time. Occasional errors are made in the performance of this routine number entry task, resulting in patients receiving the incorrect dose of a drug. While many of these number entry errors are inconsequential, others are not; infusing 100 ml of a drug instead of 10 ml can be fatal. This paper investigates whether a supplementary graphical number representation, depicting the magnitude of a number, can help people detect number entry errors. An experiment was conducted in which 48 participants had to enter numbers from a ‘prescription sheet’ to a computer interface using a keyboard. The graphical representation was supplementary and was shown both on the ‘prescription sheet’ and the device interface. Results show that while overall more errors were made when the graphical representation was visible, the graphical representation helped participants to detect larger number entry errors (i.e., those that were out by at least an order of magnitude). This work suggests that a graphical number entry system that visualizes magnitude of number can help people detect serious number entry errors.