Are Improved EMR UI Designs On The Way? I Doubt It

Posted on December 4, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

More or less since EMRs were first deployed, providers have been complaining about the poor quality of the interface they’ve had to use.  Quite reasonably, clinicians complained that these interfaces weren’t intuitive, required countless extra keystrokes and forced their work processes into new and uncomfortable patterns.

Despite many years of back and forth, EMR vendors don’t seem to be doing much better. But if a new story appearing in Modern Healthcare is to be believed, vendors are at least trying harder. (Better late than never, I suppose.)

For example, the story notes, designers at Allscripts create a storyboard to test new user interface designs on providers before they actually develop the coded UI. They use the storyboard to figure out where features should sit on a given screen.

According to the magazine, designers at several other EMR vendors have begun going through similar processes. “They are consulting with and observing users inside and outside of their natural work environments to build EHRs for efficient – and pleasant – workflows, layouts and functionality,” the magazine reports.

Reporter Rachel Arndt says that major EHR vendors now rely on a mix of approaches such as formal user testing and collection of informal feedback from end-users to meet their products more usable for clinicians. In some cases, this has evolved into official UI design partnerships between EHR vendors and customers, the story says.

Okay. I get it. We’re supposed to believe that vendors have finally gotten their heads together and are working to make end-users of their products happier and more productive. But given the negative feedback I still get from clinicians, I find myself feeling rather skeptical that the EHR vendors have suddenly gotten religion where UI design is concerned.

For what it’s worth, I have no doubt that Ms. Arndt reported accurately what the vendors were telling her. If any of us would ask vendors they are partnering with customers – especially end-users – to make their products more intuitive to work with, they will swear on a stack of user manuals that they’re improving usability every day.

Until I hear otherwise, though, I’m not going to assume that conditions have changed much out there where EHR usability is concerned. Today, all the feedback I get suggests that EHRs are still being designed to meet the needs of senior management within provider organizations, not the doctors and nurses that have to use them every day.

Of course, I hope I’m wrong, and that the story is accurate in ways that offer some hope to clinicians. But for now, color me very doubtful that EMR vendors are making any earth-shattering UI improvements at present.