NIST releases EHR usability guidance

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has taken another step to help the electronic health record industry improve EHRs, issuing technical guidance for vendors and others evaluate their usability.

The guidance, released March 20, outlines a three-part usability protocol and the procedures for design evaluation and human testing of EHR systems. It updates and incorporates comments NIST received on its draft guidance, issued September 2011. NIST hopes that increasing usability of EHRs will impact their rate of adoption, improve patient care, and make the products safer by providing methods to measure and validate user performance before they're deployed.

"This guidance can be a useful tool for EHR developers to demonstrate that their systems don't lead to use errors or user errors," NIST researcher Matt Quinn said in a statement. "It will provide a way for developers and evaluators to objectively assess how easy their EHR systems are to learn and operate, while maximizing efficiency."

NIST for years has expressed concern about the difficulty of EHR use, and even launched an initiative to voluntarily test existing EHR systems.

"Usability represents an important yet often overlooked factor impacting the adoption and meaningful use of ... EHR systems," the guidance's authors note. "Without usable systems, doctors, medical technicians, nurses, administrative staff, consumers, and other users cannot gain the potential benefits of features and functions of EHR systems."

To learn more:
- here's the NIST announcement
- read the fact sheet (.pdf)
- here's the entire guidance (.pdf)
- check out NISTs September 2011 draft report (.pdf)