Why was WOMBAT developed?

Why was WOMBAT developed?

WOMBAT was developed to provide a reliable method for investigating the ways in which health professionals’ work and communication patterns change following the introduction of clinical information systems in hospitals. The aim was to advance existing methods, which failed to enable collection of multiple dimensions of work, interruptions and multitasking. In this way, WOMBAT sought to reflect a greater level of the complexity of clinical work.

Interventions and reforms often result in changes to work practices and many questions arise regarding the nature and value of those changes. For example, while there is great enthusiasm regarding the ways in which clinical information systems might streamline work processes and allow greater time in direct care activities, systems may also have negative consequences on some aspects of work efficiency and safety. Thus, there is a need for rigorous studies which quantify the impact of interventions and reforms and assess the nature of changes and their implications.

In the informatics field, we need quality data about how systems enhance or disrupt existing patterns of work and communication, so that we can move to re-design systems and/or work practices in ways which avoid any possible negative outcomes and which take advantage of the benefits information technology presents.

The history of WOMBAT


WOMBAT 1.0, developed in 2006, allowed trained observers to shadow individuals and record four fixed dimensions of work activities: what task, with whom, where, and how. Each task was automatically timestamped. Instances of multitasking and interruptions could also be recorded. The software was developed for Windows PDA (HP iPAQ running Windows Mobile) [1].


WOMBAT was redesigned in 2011 with the aim of allowing the tool to be used by research teams across the world. WOMBAT 2.0 provided researchers the flexibility to create custom data collection templates that could include the original four dimensions, or different/additional dimensions and variables. WOMBAT 2.0 also allowed interruptions and multitasking to be recorded and examined in greater detail. The new functionality increased the range of research questions that could be addressed with WOMBAT data, and expanded its application beyond health care. WOMBAT 2.0 was developed for devices running an Android operating system (4.0 and above) [2].


In 2019, WOMBAT underwent redevelopment to improve the user interface and usability, and expand its functionality. WOMBAT 3.0 has been designed for use on devices running the Apple operating system (iOS) including iPad, iPad mini and iPhone. The WOMBAT App is freely available on the App Store and includes a Lite Version, which allows users to explore how WOMBAT works, how data are collected using WOMBAT, what collected WOMBAT data looks like, and examples of measures for analysis. WOMBAT 3.0 allows researchers to include a free text field in their data collection templates, further increasing the capacity to examine and answer different research questions. See WOMBAT in action.

Find WOMBAT 3.0 on the App Store.



[1] Westbrook JI, Ampt A, Williamson M, Nguyen K, Kearney L. Methods for measuring the impact of health information technologies on clinicians' patterns of work and communication. Studies in Health Technology and Informatics. 2007;129(Pt 2):1083-7.

[2] Westbrook JI, Creswick NJ, Duffield C, Li L, Dunsmuir WT. Changes in nurses’ work associated with computerised information systems: opportunities for international comparative studies using the revised Work Observation Method By Activity Timing (WOMBAT). In NI 2012: 11th International Congress on Nursing Informatics, June 23-27, 2012, Montreal, Canada. 2012 (Vol. 2012). American Medical Informatics Association.

Content owner: Australian Institute of Health Innovation Last updated: 19 May 2020 8:08am

Back to the top of this page