Factors that make some EHR systems more usable than others

Electronic health record system usability is something that has been discussed a great deal lately. Vendors know that they need to create a usable EHR system if they do not want providers to look into purchasing a replacement, and providers know that usability plays a large role in whether they will be able to successfully implement their system. However, while the term "usability" has been tossed around a lot, that does not mean that all providers have a firm grasp on what features a usable system should have. 

Recently, MedCity News published an article discussing some of the major features providers should be looking for when they are trying to find a usable system. For example, providers should be able to quickly and easily enter patient information into their EHRs without having to spend a great deal of time searching for what boxes information needs to go into or having to click around the screen too much. If a patient comes in who is experiencing an emergency, information will have to be entered quickly so treatment can begin as soon as possible, which is why EHRs need to be as usable as possible. 

Also, EHRs should be able to provide default information to make entering data into the system easier. However, a good EHR system will be able to provide this feature without increasing providers' risk of duplicating data. Furthermore, while this may not seem like an important feature, providers should be able to see all pertinent patient information on one screen, rather than having to click between multiple windows. Not only will this make it simpler for providers to access the information they need, but it will allow them to easily go back and forth between glancing at the screen and talking to patients, so patients do not feel as though they are being neglected during their appointments. 

Tips to boost usability
Healthcare IT news reported that there have been recommendations made by professionals for how usability can be boosted. For example, American Health Information Management Association senior director of coding policy and compliance Sue Bowman released a statement with suggestions for how to increase EHR usability. 

"The current approach to EHR standardization and certification does not address system implementation, usability by clinicians (including integration with workflows), or information integrity," Bowman said in a statement, quoted by the news source. "Certification criteria used to establish eligibility for use in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services EHR Incentive Program, while slowly starting to address EHR safety and usability issues, are not yet sufficient to ensure EHR-related safety and improve information integrity."

She recommended that usability be made part of the EHR certification process because it is such an important part of whether physicians will be able to successfully use the system. However, that does not mean that she thinks the job of ensuring usability should fall solely on providers. She explained that providers should also develop policies for their health care organizations that pertain to appropriate EHR use. This may help make sure that their practices are utilizing best practices. 

Bowman again stressed the importance of having a usable system, and said that it is crucial to the very integrity of these systems. 

"Poor EHR system design and improper use can cause EHR-related errors that jeopardize the integrity of the information in the EHR, leading to errors that endanger patient safety or decrease the quality of care," added Bowman. 

Providers who do not think that their systems are meeting usability standards should consider looking into purchasing a replacement EHR before they waste more time.