The federal government is rushing to spend billions of dollars to encourage providers to adopt healthcare information technology, but the audience intended to be galvanized by that money says that IT usability is still a missing link.
The health IT allocations in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009dubbed HITECHinclude $19 billion to foster the use of health IT, especially electronic health records. The spending comes as HHS-funded researchers reported in the New England Journal of Medicine that few hospitals are using EHRs. In a separate article published in the same issue David Blumenthal, the physician recently chosen to be the national coordinator for health information technology, said as the government strives to increase adoption it must be able to define the meaning of certified EHR and meaningful use.
Many certified EHRs are neither user-friendly nor designed to meet HITECHs ambitious goals of improving quality and efficiency in the healthcare system, he wrote in the NEJM article.
Health IT Strategist readers tend to agree. In an online poll, readers said the Certification Commission for Health Information Technology should consider ease-of-use. Of 84 readers who responded, 78% said the certification process should include a usability rating. While 7% said no to that requirement, another 14% said usability could not be rated.
But it should be easier to rate usability, said David Butler, a physician with Texas Childrens Pediatric Associates. The physicians group is a subsidiary of Texas Childrens Hospital, Houston. Currently, most EHR vendors take a one-size-fits-all approach in their products, which providersafter the system is installed in the hospitalthen must spend hours and money to customize, he said. Not until the system has been tweaked and refined so that its functions are relevant to the practice can providers say the EHRs work. EHRs are in their adolescence, he said.