With more and more physicians adopting electronic health records (EHR), the next great frontier is ensuring the new tools are used in the most safe and efficient manner. And, as with most products, not every EHR system is created equal.
According to a recent article in the New York Times, that’s why the Obama administration is proposing a plan to develop standards to measure how effective and easy digital patient records are to use — applying a research discipline known as human-computer interaction or human factors.
As the article states, a recent article by an arm of the National Academy of Sciences concluded systems were often poorly designed, and so could “increase the chance of error, add to rather than reduce work flow, and compound the frustrations doing the required tasks.”
So the government would like to adopt certain basic “usability” standards for each EHR, and because Obama has pledged up to give up to $44,000 per physician for the purchase of a system, they have a major voice in the debate.
Not so fast, however, says the EHR industry. Again, from the New York Times:
Mary Kate Foley, vice president of the user experience at Athenahealth, a health technology company, expressed similar sentiments at the meeting last month.
Later, she explained that she thought the government should confine its efforts to analyzing the methods companies deploy to improve usability, like field studies in doctors’ offices. It should monitor and promote industry “best practices,” she recommended, but not do comparative measurements of different health record vendors or product features.
“What scares me is design details mandated from on high,” Ms. Foley said. “That’s going to prevent me from making my electronic health records more usable. It will hurt innovation.”
At KIG Healthcare Solutions, we’re lucky, because we work primarily with a major EMR software vendor that has spent millions of dollars in improving the usability of its system. Although the software is often more expensive than some competitors, the overall cost – after implementation – can be much lower because the providers are using a system that does not slow them down or enable them to make expensive – and life threatening – errors.
No matter, you can expect more debate on this issue in the coming months as the government spends more money, and more doctors jump on the EHR train.