I have a use-case where the user (a nurse) has to enter case-notes which is a paragraph of free-format text in a box. But to speed things up, auto-complete is proposed to be offered for certain elements e.g. Drug names.


Patient John Doe was prescribed Amoxicylin 500 mg"

Here on typing Amox (say 4 chars) the drop down would somehow pop up and allow the nurse to select the Drug he wants.

So this doesn't fit the paradigm of a conventional drop down list nor a single Auto-complete Text Box. Most of the text is free-form text without any auto-complete. Only on specific words auto-complete is offered.

I was just wondering if such a thing has a name so that I can look up designs, implementation etc. Or just any links to other products that use this, or any libraries / widgets / toolkits that facilitate the implementation.

I don't want to re-invent the wheel and also want to avoid any pitfalls.


My thoughts:

  • Selecting with a Tab or something like it would be convenient than forcing a mouse select.
  • Popping up only after a good match would be key to avoid false positive pop-ups. e.g. A pop up on typing Amox is good but amo would be annoying since he may be entering "among" or something like that which isn't a Drug Name.
  • A more accurate way might be to pop up not after a fixed number of matching characters entered in a word but only after the number of matches on a regular wordlist is low but has a match on the Drug Word List.
  • There's so many uncommon words that this last option might be best implimented using a wordlist with frequency of usage in a common corpus or a medical corpus? e.g. If a word is matching frequently used words don't pop up yet, only pop up at the stage where there's one or more matches on the drug list but very few on the frequent commonly used words list
  • A brute force, relatively dumb way to do this might be pre-agreed keywords that trigger a popup. i.e. Rx produces a pop up as the next word. e.g.

Patient John Doe Rx Amoxicylin 500 mg

1 Answer 1


Repurpose an autocorrect design

There is a similar design pattern that every phone or handheld has: autocorrect. If you restrict the autocorrection dictionary to the names of pharmaceutical products, would that solve the design problem?

I looked up drugs that start with "Amox…" and there were several. There must be thousands of drug names, so I can imagine that this would be useful for nurses.

This illustration is based on the autocorrect interaction of Windows Phone:

Example of repurposed autocorrect

By the way, if there are more matches, then the user can flick the list left or right to scroll more matches.


This is unrelated to your core question: have you considered voice dictation as time-saving a data-entry method? You may be able to do this quite easily if the app runs on Android or iOS, because voice-recognition software is standard.

  • 1
    Thanks! I haven't considered voice dictation simply because it sounded too complex. But I totally agree it would be perfect if I could pull it off. Aug 30, 2015 at 4:11
  • It might not be as difficult as you think. We added voice dictation to our Android and iOS apps, simply by using the technology that's already built in. The user must have the feature on—so in iPhone for example, Siri must be toggled on.
    – JeromeR
    Aug 30, 2015 at 4:28

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