Usability integrates into EHR discussion

Healthcare IT industry observers have long cautioned: What good is an electronic health record (EHR) system if it is not usable in the hands of physicians and hospital personnel? The final rule for Stage 2 meaningful use addresses that query by making usability part of the EHR certification criteria.

[See also: EHR study continues to spark discussion]

Bernie Monegain, editor of Healthcare IT News (a sister publication of PhysBizTech), talked with diverse industry insiders for their take on what is critical to user-centric design and what the usability factors might mean to healthcare and to the healthcare IT market.

Here is a sampling of some of the topics on their minds.

1. Data entry. The biggest complaint is data entry, said JiaJie Zhang, director of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC)'s SHARP project, who is charged with finding ways to make EHRs easier to use. “Nobody wants to become a data-entry clerk,” Zhang noted. “Their job is to take care of patients, and data entry so far is not optimized. It involves many, many issues here. It is basically the repetition. If you enter this one here, you have to enter it again in a different place. It should be automatic.”

[See also: CMS bestows nearly $7 billion in EHR incentive payments]

2. Errors. “There is unprecedented interest in EHRs by physician community – driven by meaningful use – there’s no question about that,” commented Robert Tennant, senior policy advisor for the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA). However, physicians are worried they might select a product that turns out to be hard to use, and take away from the time they spend with patient, he said. “I really think it’s a good step for ONC to start pushing the vendors toward more user-friendly systems," he added, "because if they’re not easy, it slows the clinician down. It can frustrate them. It could lead to errors."

3. Metrics. “There are all sorts of things you can measure,” said Mary Kate Foley, vice president of user experience at healthcare technology company athenahealth. “First of all, one of the advantages that we (athenahealth) have…is that we are in the cloud, so we can actually inspect how people use the system – just the way Amazon is inspecting what does it take to get you to click that add-to-my-cart button, or what does it take to get you to start using one-click shopping. So you measure who is doing what and how many people are doing that and how often they do it and how long it takes them. Those are usage metrics. They won’t tell you a thing about why somebody clicks something or whether they were happy or sad when they clicked it. The happy, sad and the why metrics? You get from usability inspections."

4. Training. William F. Bria, MD, CMIO of Shriners Hospitals for Children, points to not only the short time for implementation of new EHRs, but also the short time for training on new systems. “Now we have this problem of compressed timelines for education and adoption. We have an imperfect  -- and that’s being generous -- technology environment and market. We have systems that were made in response to customers and business opportunity that often had little to do with clinical adoption and acceptance – they had everything to do with IT adoption and acceptance, they had to make sense first to the IT leaders. And so here we are."

5. Bottom line. One of the top complaints Rosemarie Nelson has gotten used to hearing from physicians is that EHRs slow them down. Nelson, principal of the MGMA Healthcare Consulting Group, doesn't buy it. “After they give themselves time to get over the curve – and that can be from three weeks to three months to almost a year for some of them – their bottom line is better," she said. "What they haven’t done is look at that change in their day. They think it takes longer to see one patient.” In the past they would write their notes at the end of the day, she added. Now, they tend to enter notes during the visit. "When you look at data, the bottom line profitability for the most part is better," said Nelson. As for whether some EHRs are easier to use then others? “I think the market is the final test of usability.”

Comments (1)

Cindy Wright : Great article. Clearly one of the biggest barriers to EHR acceptance and use is usability. Quite simply, if the system or user interface isn't intuitive, easy to use, and provide something back to the clinician (like usable data at the point of care) then it doesn't get used. Data doesn't get entered into the EHR and therefore cannot be shared. So clearly, usability is essential in terms of evaluating an EHR. Check out Medicomp Systems' documentation tool and user interface, Quippe. It's an SDK that can be integrated into most EHRs to enhance usability and system.

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