We developed a conceptual framework that describes how information transfer occurs in mission critical domains using a distributed cognition approach. According to this framework, information tools and the physical workspace comprise an "information arena", which plays a crucial role in information transfer. Information tools and the information arena support joint work and may improve efficiency and reliability by providing visual cues to collaborators, by getting everyone on the same page, by helping collaborators focus on critical information, by facilitating attention management under time pressure, and by providing an evanescent (transient) communication space. We illustrate the concepts in this framework using an example from multidisciplinary rounds, an information transfer mechanism common in the intensive care unit, a mission critical domain. The framework can be used as a guide to further understanding of information transfer in mission critical domains and to develop information tools that facilitate and enhance discourse.