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BLOG:Healthcare and Technology: Is Usability Getting in Your Way?

Healthcare and Technology: Is Usability Getting in Your Way?

Healthcare organizations have seen and had to implement a lot of changes to keep up with technology in the past few years - implementing electronic medical record systems to standardize data capture in 2011, electronic transmissions of records across multiple care settings in 2014, and now the focus on measuring improved outcomes in 2016 is enough to stress out even the most advanced health system. If you are one of these healthcare organizations and are looking ahead to 2016, it’s important to pause and evaluate the work you have done so far. It’s important because the systems you put in place all have one thing in common - they either help providers and patients achieve their goals faster and more efficiently, or they create roadblocks that slow care.

Those roadblocks are symptoms of poor usability. Poor usability leaves your providers and patients saying things like, “This is hard to use,” “I’m not sure if I’m doing this right,” and “It took me a long time to figure it out.” If you hear things like this, don’t ignore them. These are verbal red flags. When you dig a little deeper, you will start to uncover problems like patient information being entered incorrectly, bad data transmission, and patients not using your system (or even finding a different practice altogether). All of these problems stem from having a user un-friendly system and all of them will defeat your attempts to provide the best level of care for your patients. If you can relate, you are probably wondering, why is this happening to me? Good question. It’s because making simple, user-friendly solutions is really hard!

Creating systems that have excellent usability takes dedication on the part of the company that creates them. Companies that create simple systems employ human-centered design practices. They have a dedicated team of folks whose mission is to walk a mile in the shoes of the end users (both practitioners and patients), use this information to create a workflow that supports natural human behavior, and deliberately craft a system that provides the right information at the right time. These rigorous practices sit at the heart of their company and allow them to inform business direction, guide product features and coordinate customer service practices. Without them, systems are built on the opinions of a few and crafted ad hoc to meet the needs of the loudest (who may or may not know if what they are asking for is the best solution to their problem). Without human-centered design, the experience is troublesome and will ultimately undermine the very goals you need to achieve your meaningful use milestones. But never fear- it’s not too late to begin taking steps in the right direction to improve usability for both your staff and your patients. Here are a few ways to get started.

  • Evaluate usability as part of your procurement or value analysis process. Regardless of size, every organization can ask key individuals who would use the system to take it for a test drive. Even better if they have a few to compare. It will allow them to point out where they think the system will succeed or fail based on the job they have to accomplish.
  • Talk to folks in other similar organizations that use the system day to day. Learn how difficult implantation was for them, and the impact it had on business. Ask them if they have gotten adequate training and support.
  • Consider your patient population. Populations that have a lower socio-economic standing have different habits then populations with greater means. You may need a patient portal that has a mobile app or patients won’t be able to access it.
  • Consider hiring a professional team who can evaluate your organization’s needs and create a roadmap of product integration and organizational service design. Providing a seamless experience will empower your staff and your patients to focus on what really matters- their health.

Simple and user-friendly experiences influence the overall experience your patients and staff members have with your healthcare organization. By evaluating usability, analyzing the results and learning from organizations, you can use that collection of information to move forward with your strategy and enhance their experience.