3 ways to improve health IT usability

All too often, usability issues hamper technology implementation in healthcare settings. In a recent survey of electronic health record users and other experts, 88 percent said lack of focus on usability will drive many EHR companies out of business by 2017, for example.

In a recent blog post, Mike Butler, a healthcare consultant at Newton, Mass.-based Hayes Management Consulting, offers three simple ways to improve usability:

  1. System design: Create systems that interact easily--it is the "foundation of useability," he writes. A solid system design in an electronic health record can help to minimize and prevent medical errors while improving the quality of care delivered to patients, for example. 
  2. Screen displays: Make tools and language as "clear and intuitive" as possible. "A patient who cannot understand his/her care plan or visit summary will not be able to validate information added by clinicians, thus increasing opportunities for mistakes," he writes. 
  3. Workflow: Keep it simple but also flexible and efficient. For instance, he says, it should be easy to perform tasks like logging into and out of patient records.

According to a report published last month by Orem, Utah-based research firm KLAS, the usability of different ambulatory EHR systems varies significantly. Watertown, Mass.-based athenahealth received the highest rating at 85 percent, while New York-based McKesson received the lowest rating at 55 percent. Verona, Wis.-based Epic rated the best at guiding providers to achieve high usability levels.

Research published in April in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association by leaders at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs determined that "next generation" EHRs need to make more than "incremental" changes and move beyond the concept of serving as computerized paper charts.

To learn more:
- read the full blog post