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Why is Usability Important?

Shouldn't the emphasis be on how well the product works? The features list? Ease of installation, platform compatibility, training and support, the price? Usability – like “user-centered” and “look and feel” - sounds so... touchy-feely, non-measurable, and, well, vague. Can’t users choose an EHR based on solid engineering and trust they will adapt to it? The answer is a resounding No.

Research shows that busy physicians, nurses and technicians prefer EHR’s that rate higher in standard usability tests. Here are some other reasons:

  • The Government requires it.  Meaningful Use Stage 2 requires vendors to document they followed user-centered design methodology during development.
  • Professional organizations endorse it. AMIA (American Medical Informatics Association) and HIMSS (the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society) have published statements supporting the improvement of usability.
  • Studies support it. The Institute of Medicine has reviewed studies on health IT and patient safety, and their review links preventable patient injuries and clinician dissatisfaction to poor usability.
  • Usability means it is Useful. Usability is more than just a nice thing to have in an EHR. NCCD takes a work-centered approach to usability and considers usefulness – how well the EHR gets the job done – as a primary component of usability.

But we already listen to our users. Isn't that enough?

Again, the answer is No. All vendors listen to their users, but most users lack the experience or knowledge of what’s possible or truly usable. After the system is installed, when the complaints start rolling in, it’s too late. Usability studies have turned up legions of sad stories about surprisingly unusable products and dysfunctional functionalities - and that’s why usability has come to be recognized as crucial to success.

Usability is more than “user friendly”, more than “look and feel.”

Usability testing is a refined methodology, based on years of research in cognitive science, and it can identify issues central to usability: learnability, efficiency, and user satisfaction.