Guides seek to help vendors improve EHR usability

Three federal agencies have come together to publish a pair of guides on how EHR software and application vendors can improve the usability of their products.

In one report, the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) discusses "user-centered design" for EHRs. The second guide, from NIST and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) and entitled, "Customized Common Industry Format Template for Electronic Health Record Usability Testing," points out gaps in many of the processes and practices EHR vendors follow to help ensure the usability of their products and offers a template for testing usability.

Both publications were developed under the auspices of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.

As CMIO reports, user-centered design, or UCD, takes human performance into consideration in the development of systems and devices. In general, UCD models:

  • Understand user needs, workflows and work environments;
  • Engage users at every step of a process;
  • Set objectives for user performance;
  • Design user interfaces based on known human behavior principles;
  • Conduct usability tests for each interface; and
  • Continuously adapt the design based on user testing until performance objectives are met.

"The process of usability testing involves detailed planning, including a complete description of recruitment, moderator's guide, methods, tasks and measures," the NIST report explains. "The measures typically collected include task success, task times, errors, subjective satisfaction and verbal report."

The second guide, for usability testing, provides a template for EHR usability testing since AHRQ and NIST found wide variations in how vendors test for and report usability of their products.

For more information:
- read this CMIO story
- see this Health Data Management news brief
- here's the NIST report on improving EHR usability (.pdf)
- here's the AHRQ/NIST template for usability testing (.pdf)