NIST to test EHR usability

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has decided to tackle the problem of poor electronic health record usability, asking EHR vendors to share their products with the agency so it can research how they work, according to an iHealthBeat report.

According to NIST's Federal Register notice, the agency plans to conduct research designed to develop a set of guidelines/standards for usability of EHRs and develop a framework for assessing their "performance oriented" usability. NIST also may examine the EHR systems' relevant instructions, documentation and error messages. It will release its findings in a report.

NIST estimates that it will take a year to conduct the research, and vendors can't make modifications to products being researched during that time. The agency does assure vendors that it will keep the EHRs protected, applying the same high security measures in place in its main headquarters in Gaithersburg, Md., even if testing is performed off-site. NIST will not accept personal health information for this project. It will report any usability problems to the vendor.

This is not the first time that NIST, which has a keen interest in EHRs, has expressed concern about EHRs' usability. In a 108-page report released last fall, NIST noted that EHR usability was "critical" but that EHRs were harder to use than they should be. The report called for further studies to assess the problem and recommended that a usability protocol be developed for the products.

To learn more:
- read NIST's Federal Register notice
- check out this iHealthBeat article
- read this piece
- here's NIST's September 2011 report (.pdf)