Where Are Usability Standards For EMRs?

Posted on December 7, 2012 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.

The other day, I was talking with a physician about ambulatory EMRs.  “None of them are any good,” said the doctor, who’s studied EMRs for several years but never invested in one. “I can’t find a single one that I can use.”

Are any of you surprised to hear him say that? I’m certainly not.  Perhaps he’s exaggerating a bit when he says that absolutely none are usable at all, but it’s hard to argue that doctors cope with a counter intuitive mess far too often.  And of course, enterprise EMRs get if anything lower usability ratings from practicing doctors.

All of which brings me around to the notion of EMR usability standards, or rather, the lack of such same. While those in the industry talk often about usability, there’s no real consensus standard for measuring how usable a particular EMR is, despite noble efforts by NIST and impassioned advocacy by usability gurus in the field.

Certainly, private research organizations take usability into account when they survey clinicians on which EMRs they prefer. So clunky EMRs with lousy UIs do pay some kind of price when they’re rated by the clinical user. But that’s a far cry from having a standard in place by which medical practices and hospitals can objectively consider how usable their preferred EMR is going to be.

So, why don’t we have usability standards already in place?  The market still hasn’t punished vendors whose EMRs are a pain to use, so vendors keep on turning our products built around IT rather than clinical needs. The doctor I spoke with may have opted out of the EMR market, but most providers aren’t going to do that, Meaningful Use incentives being just one reason why. (It’s a “handwriting is on the wall” thing.)

It’s a shame CMS isn’t pushing vendors to produce Meaningfully Use-ABLE EMRs. That might do the trick.