At a meeting in Washington on Thursday, a work group of the federally chartered Health Information Technology Policy Committee tackled the question of whether and how it's possible to test the usability of electronic health-record systems—and opinions on the viability of such testing ranged from outright skepticism to absolute confidence.
The committee's adoption and certification work group heard testimony from an array of EHR experts, including providers, developers, testers and market watchers.
Dr. Christine Sinsky, an internist at Medical Associates Clinic in Dubuque, Iowa, said she has worked with an EHR system as both a clinician and a technical adviser since 2003. She described a litany of usability problems she has experienced personally or that have been reported to her. These included "death by PDF" when 50 scanned documents were stuffed into a patient's electronic record and needing 10 minutes for one EHR system to place an order for a mammogram.
Work-group member Carl Dvorak, executive vice president of Epic Systems Corp., Verona, Wis., was one of several vendors to testify. Dvorak said he hoped that regional extension centers, established by the federal government under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, would provide feedback on usability issues. Although vendors don't fear usability measurement, he asserted, "I definitely think they are afraid of measurement by someone with a bias."
Most important in the construction of any mechanism designed to measure EHR systems' usability would be keeping "the voice of the physician front and center," he said.