Opinion: Now that the Dust has Settled, Healthcare IT Vendors and Informaticists Need to Re-focus on Usability

Photo: Beth Dituro, Program Director, Pinnacle Center for Professional Development Photo Credit: Courtesy Beth Dituro
Beth Dituro, Program Director, Pinnacle Center for Professional Development | Courtesy Beth Dituro

[The Author is Program Director, Pinnacle Center for Professional Development, Fairfield, N.J.]

Healthcare IT is unique in that not much application development takes place.  Healthcare delivery organizations, in N.J. and elsewhere in the country, typically do not hire programmers or developers, but instead purchase and implement third-party software from health IT vendors and rely on analysts with vendor and product-specific experience to configure and support applications. 

On the other hand, the healthcare IT vendors use programmers and developers to design and create healthcare applications, and work closely with healthcare delivery organizations to define functional and usability requirements. Historically, this exchange of information and requirements has been facilitated by healthcare organization CIOs and IT departments. These vendors also hire clinical staff as subject matter experts.  Some of these companies, such as New Jersey’s Wellsoft, have been officially recognized as highly usable and user-friendly by organizations such as KLAS.

In the recent past, however, healthcare IT vendors in the Electronic Medical Record (EMR) and Electronic Health Record (EHR) market had to create systems according to the technical specifications provided by governmental regulatory agencies in order to become certified for Meaningful Use (MU).  The need to concentrate on regulatory requirements, rather than user-centered design, has resulted in some serious usability issues and is contributing to end-user dissatisfaction and low adoption rates in healthcare organizations. This is a serious issue that can affect patient care, clinician morale, and overall healthcare operations.

Fortunately, the evolution of clinical software systems used by healthcare organizations has brought with it the emergence of the healthcare informatics field; clinicians who are dedicated to the effective and optimal use of computer systems. Healthcare IT vendors will need to work closely with these informaticists, as well as healthcare IT departments, to identify and understand the human factors, usability, business, and integration requirements so they can truly utilize user-centered design principles.

A user-centered design approach to building clinical software can ensure that the new generation of healthcare IT systems will enhance, rather than impede, healthcare operations and patient care. To accomplish this, health IT vendors will need to add designers to their staff, in addition to developers and clinicians. This trifecta of skills has the potential of creating a new generation of software that will finally be welcomed by clinicians.

The Pinnacle Center for Professional Development (PCPD) is a continuing education program for the Health Information Technology industry, based in northern New Jersey. Dituro previously held key Healthcare IT  leadership roles at NYC’s Lenox Hill Hospital and the North Shore LIJ Health System.

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