The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) seeks manufacturers of electronic health record (EHR) systems to participate in a research effort to develop methods for assessing the usability of health information systems.
Usability is broadly defined by information technology professionals as a measure of how well a system can be applied by its intended users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction. All software systems developers strive for usability, but it is particularly important in health information systems. The usability of a health IT system can be the difference between a good and bad outcome for the patient.
The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS)* has argued that usability may be the single biggest obstacle to widespread adoption and use of electronic health records in clinical settings. EHR systems must present and record often complex medical information, in a wide variety of formats, so that it can be easily accessed and used by clinicians and other users.
Accurately assessing usability involves more than simple surveys of user satisfaction. NIST is working to develop a basic framework for assessing the usability of health information technology systems and ultimately recommending performance-oriented user interface design guidelines for EHRs.
As part of this effort, NIST seeks system manufacturers willing to provide EHR systems for use in lab-based usability testing. NIST will provide a secure computing environment to safeguard the software and equipment during the course of the research, and the EHR software and equipment will be removed from all computers on which it is installed and returned to the manufacturer at the end of the testing period. The results of the usability testing of each EHR system will be reported to its manufacturer and used to support NIST research. Individual systems will not be identified and linked to test results in any NIST reports. The systems are for research purposes only; no actual patient data will be used or accepted.
NIST anticipates that it will take approximately one year to conduct all necessary research.
Full details of intellectual property protections for the research program are in the formal Letters of Understanding that NIST will execute with participating manufacturers. To participate in the program, manufacturers must submit a request and an executed Letter of Understanding by 5 p.m. Eastern time on March 15, 2012. Interested parties should consult the Feb. 14, 2012, Federal Register notice, “Evaluating the Usability of Electronic Health Record (EHR) Systems” (Docket No.: 120123059-2058-01) available at www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2012-02-14/pdf/2012-3415.pdf for details of the program and the required Letter of Understanding.
* See, for example, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) 2009 report, Defining and Testing EMR Usability: Principles and Proposed Methods of EMR Usability Evaluation and Rating at www.himss.org/content/files/HIMSS_DefiningandTestingEMRUsability.pdf.
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