Faulty exchange and impaired access to clinical information is a major contributing factor to the incidence of medical error and occurrence of adverse events. Tradtional methods utilized for systems analysis and information technology design fail to capture the nature of information use in highly dynamic healthcare environments. This paper describes a study designed to identify information task components in a cardiovascular intensive care unit and the development of an observational data collection tool to characterize the use of information in this environment. Direct observation can be a time-consuming process and without easy to use, reliable and valid methods of documentation, may not be reproducible across observers or settings. The following attributes were found to be necessary components for the characterization of information tasks in this setting: purpose, action, role, target, mode, and duration. The identified information task components were incorporated into the design of an electronic data collection tool to allow coding of information tasks. The reliability and validity of this tool in practice is discussed and an illustration of observational data output is provided. © 2007 The authors. All rights reserved.