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EMR Usability A Pressing Issue

Posted on January 29, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 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. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

A few months ago, in a move that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention, the AMA and MedStar Health made an interesting play. The physicians’ group and the health system released a joint framework designed to rank EMR usability, as well as using the framework to rank the usability of a number of widely-implemented systems.

What makes these scores interesting is not that they’re just another set of rankings — those are pretty much everywhere — but that the researchers focused on EMR usability. As any clinician will tell you (and many have told me) despite years of evolution, EMRs are still a pain in the butt to use. And clearly, market forces are doing little to change this. Looking at where widely-used systems rate on usability is a refreshing look at a neglected issue.

To score the EMRs, researchers dug into EMR vendor testing reports from ONC. This makes sense. After all, though the agency doesn’t use this data for certification, the ONC does require EMR vendors to report on user-centered design processes they used for eight capabilities.

And while the ONC doesn’t base EMR certifications on usability, my gut feeling is that the data source is pretty reliable. I would tend to believe that given they’re talking to a certifying authority, vendors are less like to fudge these reports than any they’d prepare for potential customers.

According to the partners, Allscripts and McKesson were the highest-scoring EMR vendors, gaining 15 out of 15 points. eClinicalWorks was the lowest-scoring EMR, getting only 5 of 15 possible points. In-betweeners included Cerner and MEDITECH, which got 13 points each, and Epic, which got 9 points.

And here’s the criteria for the rankings:

  • User Centered Design Process:  EMRs were rated on whether they had a user-centered design process, how many participants took part (15+ was best) and whether test participants had a clinical background.
  • Summative Testing Methodology: These ratings focused on how detailed the use cases relied upon by the testing were and whether usability measures focused on appropriate factors (effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction).
  • Summative Testing Results:  These measures focused on whether success rates for first-time users were 80% or more, and on how substantive descriptions of areas for improvement were.

Given the spotty results across the population of EMRs tested, it seems clear that usability hasn’t been a core concern of most vendors. (Yes, I know, some of you are saying, “Boy howdy, we knew that already!”)

Perhaps more importantly, though, it can be inferred that usability hasn’t been a priority for the health systems and practices investing in these products. After all, some of the so-so ratings, such as that for the Epic product, come from companies that have been in the market forever and have had the time to iterate a mature, usable product. If health systems were demanding that EMRs be easy to use, the scores would probably be higher.

Frankly, I can’t for the life of me understand why an organization would invest hundreds of millions of dollars (or even a billion) dollars in an EMR without being sure that clinicians can actually use it. After all, a good EMR experience can be very attractive to potential recruits as well as current clinicians. In fact, a study from early last year found that 79% of RNs see the hospital’s EMR as a one of the top 3 considerations in choosing where to work.

Maybe it’s an artifact of a prior era. In the past, perhaps the health systems investing in less-usable EMRs were just making the best of a shoddy situation. But I don’t think that excuse plays anymore. I believe more providers need to adopt frameworks like this one, and apply them rigorously.

Look, I know that EMR investment is a complex dance. And obviously, notions of usability will continue to evolve as EMRs involve — so perhaps it can’t be the top priority for every buyer. But it’s more than time for health organizations to take usability seriously.

EHR Usability Survey – Share Your Opinions

Posted on June 23, 2015 I Written By

The following is a guest request to participate in a research survey on EHR usability from Natasha Ocean, a Masters student at the University of Tennessee. Natasha said she’d probably be able to share the results with us. So, let’s help her out in collecting the data.

As we embark on an era of healthcare reform in this country, it is vitally important that all hospital employees have the tools they need to be able to do their work effectively and efficiently. Yet there has been little research on whether the EHR system, an important tool for many hospital employees, is designed to help those users optimize their productivity.

That’s why I chose the topic of EHR usability for my Master’s thesis at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.

I would really appreciate it if you could take about 5 minutes to complete this survey.

The survey contains 20 multiple choice questions about how EHR usability issues affect your efficiency at work.

Please click here to take the survey.

This is NOT a marketing survey; it is being done solely for the purpose of academic research.

You may read the IRB-approved Informed Consent Statement here (short version: the survey is completely anonymous and no personal or identifying information will be collected).

Thank you so much for your assistance!

About Natasha Ocean
Natasha Ocean, originally from St. Petersburg, Russia, was a practicing neonatologist specializing in life support and critical care before moving to the United States in 2004. She then transitioned her career into IT, working first as a technical project coordinator, then as a healthcare data analyst. She can be reached at ocean.natasha@gmail.com.

Point of Care Systems vs EMR

Posted on July 15, 2014 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Bob Brown sent out this interesting tweet about point of care systems that create EMRs.

Obviously, there are a lot of different ways to put together an EMR system. One is to create the system and then push it out to the point of care. Another is to create the systems at the point of care that then push back to the EMR system.

I agree with Bob that EMR systems were created first and we’re now trying to push them to the point of care. Sadly, most of them have done a pretty poor job of pushing the documentation to the point of care. Although, we have made some significant progress on this and will make more in the future.

With that said, I personally don’t think the real problem with useful and usable EMR is how they were created. The real problem with them is that we created big billing engines and now we’ve created big government meaningful use reporting engines. If we’d created an EMR focused on improving efficiencies and providing better quality care, we’d have a very different result. We might even have something that doctors would call useful and usable.

Building Usable EMRs: What About The Patient?

Posted on November 12, 2012 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 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. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

I think most of us reading HealthcareScene.com blogs like this one would agree that for EMRs to become more usable, the process of developing them will have to change.  Specifically, everyone seems to agree that if vendors and physicians don’t work together on usability, we’ll end up with with system after system that nobody wants.

But what about patients? Do they have a role in making sure EMRs are usable?  According to Jon Mertz, the answer is a definite yes.  As Mertz sees it, it’s not good enough for vendors and physicians to talk shop to one another — patients will have to be part of the conversation.  I think he makes a lot of sense.

Talking with EMR vendors is a good way for physicians to get more of what they want, but it’s not enough, Mertz argues, I think quite persuasively. It’s also important for physicians to ask patients want to see in an EMR, especially so given that patients will eventually have access to all of that information. “Patients add an essential perspective to how an [EMR] should be used,” Mertz writes. “It is a system to serve them and their care.”

Vendors should also be talking to patients as well as physicians, Mertz suggests. “Even though physicians, clinicians, and administrative personnel are the primary users of an EHR, their solutions benefit patients, too. Information in an EHR will be viewed and carried forward by patients, so they can provide a valuable perspective on usability.”

The final step in this cycle is to develop a patient base which actively uses EMR data and is quite willing to offer feedback on how the process is working. Specifically, they need to be capable of letting hospitals, physicians and other providers know how their access to data is working, especially if the form they’re getting in doesn’t serve their needs.

I really appreciated Mertz’s take on getting patients involved in the EMR usability process. It’s a point that doesn’t get made often enough — and will definitely need to be talked up more in the future. After all, without patients feeling comfortable with their data, the ultimate goals of Meaningful Use aren’t attainable.

37 Seconds To Chart Encounter on Peds EMR

Posted on September 11, 2012 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 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. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

If you’re like me, you’ll probably be a bit surprised (pleasantly) by the following video, which can be found embedded in an equally interesting blog post on EMR feature-creep or “featuritis” by Dr. Charles Webster.  (I would have shared the video here but it’s only available on Dr. Webster’s site.)

In it, the ever-insightful Dr. Webster details how a peds practice has gotten to the point where a routine encounter takes 37 seconds to chart using the practice’s pediatrics-specialized EMR, as follows:

1:08 I open the chart
1:13 Chart my physical exam, my pharyngitis exam
1:19 Chose my diagnosis of strep pharyngitis
1:25 Make my treatment duracef and follow up in 3 days
1:31 Write my prescription
1:33 Edit my follow up if necessary
1:37 Have created a beautiful chart
1:42 Check my billing
1:44 And I’m finished

That may sound extreme, but it’s not, he says. “I’ve looked at timed studies of our current physicians’ charting at  pediatrics or family practice, and the average chart for a sick visit is 28 seconds,” he notes.

As if that wasn’t sensational enough for an audience expecting EMRs to make everything tougher, he had more to share.
“In reality, with a finger or a stylus you can do this in about a third the time,” Dr. Webster told them.  In this case, that would mean 17 clicks in 12 seconds, but people can generally tap their finger at that pace with little trouble, he says. Not such a big deal.

That being said, it seems likely that going forward, doctors will need to better develop the cognitive motor skills of musicians — the ability to step up eye-hand coordination to be sure —  if they want the best results out of their systems.  Dr. Webster says he’s planning a future post which critiques EMR data and order entry from the point of view of psychological models of musical cognition, learning, and motor skill. I think I’ll want to catch that one!

Ross Koppel Poses Questions About Safety and Usability of Health Information Technology

Posted on May 25, 2012 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

I was told that Ross Koppel gave a presentation at the NIST conference on EMR usability. In his presentation he covers several important issues of data entry and its impact on patient safety. In particular, he talks about a study he did on the problems of bar codes he found in hospitals. Turns out there’s a presentation by Ross Koppel on YouTube that is close to what he presented at the NIST Conference. See embedded video below:

Ross Koppel brings up some interesting points about patient safety and health IT. What do you guys think of his presentation?