When we say health care, it’s pretty much accepted that usability isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.

Usability Standards for Effective Heath Information Technology

At the beginning of 2010, new privacy and security requirements for health information technology went into effect. Nearly a year later, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has released two publications on EHR design processes and usability testing to help developers and vendors improve the usability of electronic health records.

The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act aims to increase the use of Electronic Health Records (EHR) by physicians and hospitals. While adapting to the requirements has taken those affected a while, these new reports aim to provide guidelines for employing "user-centered-design" processes throughout an EHR product life cycle, as well as providing a standard reporting format (known as the Common User Industry format) adopted and customized for testing EHR system.

Making EHR User-Friendly

By using the International Organization for Standardization's (ISO) definition of usability (“effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction with which the intended users can achieve their tasks in the intended context of product use”), the first report, NIST Guide to the Processes Approach for Improving the Usability of Electronic Health Records(NISTIR 7741) makes it clear, as only government research can, that in order for EHR to be implemented successfully, it needs to be designed in way that doesn’t confuse, alienate or overwhelm the user.

The reports also spends time clarifying the difference between usability and utility, which shows that they are not interested in debating the principles of EHR, rather just how it can be designed effectively. According to their research, EHRs with at least basic functionality are used by approximately 13% of physicians and 10% of hospitals nationwide. The hope is that a more user-friendly format will make it easier and more advantageous for hospitals to implement.

The second report, Customized Common Industry Format Template for Electronic Health Record Usability Testing focuses on helping vendors demonstrate the usability of their EHR. Designed not to be a user's manual on usability, this report intends to help vendors and developers record or benchmark current usability, as well as identify areas where improvements must be made.

Taken together, these reports represent the government's dedication to improving the usability of the services they provide, especially when they are required. Coupling education with implementation is a key way to promote the utility of usability.