The National Institute of Standard and Technology (NIST) has been at the forefront of compiling data on the usability of Electronic Health Records (EHR).  To keep everyone up-to-date, NIST held a workshop last year in Washington, D.C., which specifically addressed the usability of EHRs.  Those who attended were given a review of studies written by administrators, academics and practitioners, concerning the usability of EHRs.  They were introduced to NIST’s first draft of usability standards.

Maintaining EHR data can be very expensive with the proper programs and software necessary to compile, analyze, store and record every patient’s personal health data.  Of course using EHR technology is genuinely a step in the right direction for the patients, physicians and health care facilities, but the universal goal of the recent years has been to make it cost efficient.  For that reason alone, studies were made to discover if the EHR workflow and structure could be changed for benefit of savings to the users.

Of course, cost savings is not the only issue.  As previously stated, the use of electronic health record has been a benefit to many patients, but a few flaws in regards to human error or computer error were discussed at the NIST workshop.  Preventable mistakes, such as writing incorrect medicinal dosages, writing prescriptions for the wrong patient, and important information left out of records, were addressed.  On the IT side, there were delays due to system design problems and errors due to actions listed out of proper sequence.

As with all technologies that are developed from necessity, the trial and error periods are long and hard roads to perfection.  Health Information technologies are even harder to perfect because of all of the variables.  The chances of compromising a patient’s health when errors are made will suggest caution, while the overall benefits to others demand speed in development.

Another organization that is very interested in the usability of EHRs is the Office of the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology (ONC).  The ONC works within the US Department of Health and Human Services.  The goal of the ONC is to develop a nationwide infrastructure where health information exchange and electronic use of information can be promoted for many purposes. The usability of the EHR system in place will play a large part in the ONC’s successes.

It does come down to how the doctors feel about the usability of the EHR technology because they have to deal with the devices and the software programs daily.  At the Health IT Policy Committee’s Adoption/Certification Workgroup hearing on April 2011, the discussion was all about EHR technology being user-friendly.  Many doctors, clinicians, nurses, and therapists have been put under strain, due to the ineffectiveness of the way some data is arranged and disbursed.

In addition, the burden to prove or disprove an EHR-device’s usability had been placed on the health providers’ shoulders.  The bottom line at the meeting was a consensus that improvements were certainly needed. Even now, a year later, the trial and error of integrating health information technology with better health care and medical expenses continues, with a measure of cohesion still eluding the vendors, the doctors, and the government standards.