Three Key Plays to Make EHRs More Useable

In Healthcare IT News, the front cover screams with the headline “EHR Usability: A Love/Hate Relationship.” Two things are certain:

  1. EHRs may not have solved the usability challenge.
  2. EHRs will solve the usability challenge.

We are experiencing a huge transition of moving patient records from paper and folders to electronic entry and sharing. Just as the move from typewriters to personal computers had some usability challenges, the same will be true for EHRs. Technology improves, and the most successful EHR vendors will accelerate quickly along the usability curve.

Key Plays to Make More Usable EHRs

To make EHRs more usable, it will take a team effort, and there are three key plays to adopt sooner rather than later.

Keys to Building a More Usable EHR

Play 1: Physicians need to engage patients and the vendor.

Physicians and clinicians are the primary users of an EHR. As users they need to open a channel to their EHR vendor and offer insights and suggestions on how to make their interaction with the technology smooth, beneficial, convenient, accurate, and useful. It will take some time to communicate these elements, but it is the only way to move more quickly up the usability curve. It will be time well-spent.

In addition, ultimately, patients will have access to information contained within an electronic health record. A conversation needs to happen between physicians and patients about how they want to get their data and in what form. There have been several recent articles about how patients value having access to their notes in the EHR. Patients add an essential perspective to how an EHR should be used. It is a system to serve them and their care.

Play 2: Vendors need to engage physicians and patients in the usability of their applications.

The best healthcare vendors listen to their customers. It is more than listening though. It is acting on what is heard in a way that makes the product better, more usable, and more effective. EHR vendors can change the model by involving patients in this process as well. 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.

Play 3: Patients need to be open to giving feedback and insights on electronic health records.

The first step in this process may be for patients to ask for access or a copy of relevant data from their EHR. To gain credibility in the process, patients need to be conversant, meaning they need to have their data in whatever form their physicians will provide it.

The second step then is to talk to their physicians, hospital, and other care providers about how, what, and why they are and are not getting certain data. It is about understanding and giving feedback. Good, open conversations shed light and provide an opportunity for improving programs and exchanges.

Finally, patients need to be open to participating in forums or other discussions with healthcare vendors in how their applications can better serve them in the delivery and management of their care. Patients play a key role in that they are one of the key stakeholders in useable, effective, and high quality applications.

The Forgotten Point in the Usability Conversations

Patients should have a voice. It is amazing to watch and hear the perspective of health IT professionals change after they hear someone like Regina Holiday tell her story. It centers people in re-gaining what is really important – the patient. Patient voices need to be included more in the healthcare IT industry, just as physicians and clinicians need to be.

The big, big point is this: Healthcare information technology is a team sport, and we all need to work together to make applications more usable and more effective. It is about delivering the highest quality patient care in the most cost-effective, meaningful way possible.

The health IT playing field needs to look like this:

Usable EHRs - A Team Sport

Accelerating up the EHR and other healthcare technology usability curve is vital, and we all need to play a role to make IT happen in a more user-friendly way.

How do you see patient voices changing health IT? Are patients playing a larger enough role in the health IT conversations?


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Jon Mertz serves as the editor at and vice president of marketing at Corepoint Health. Jon is an advocate for strong patient engagement in their health and understands the key roles health literacy, patient data, and healthcare interoperability play in developing a better health care model. Follow Jon on Twitter.
  • Ileana Balcu

    Great post, Jon, and excellent advice – to be open to anything they give you! I am guilty of being offered the doctor’s notes on paper and not accepting them. I did look over her shoulder as she was writing them – kudos to my doc for being comfortable with that!

    There’s something else that doesn’t even seem to be considered: the patients can enter a good deal of the data, and it would make it easier for techs/nurses and doctors, It would make it easier for patients to be engaged, feel heard and be part of the team.

  • Jon Mertz

    Great point, Ileana. As applications become more accessible, patients become an even more important information contributor, and entering data in would be welcomed on all fronts it seems. Appreciate your comment and work in this area! Jon

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