Sunday, August 16, 2009

“Good software includes superb usability”

HISTalk just published a fantastic interview with Ross Koppel, PhD, a sociologist who has researched and published on the problems with HIT systems – focusing mostly on errors with CPOE, but can be easily applied to ambulatory EHRs as well.

At the beginning of the interview, he says something that needs to be better understood in the marketplace: “Vendors seek market penetration ASAP because user implementation costs prevent reconsideration of other options once a hospital or even medical practice is committed. But vendor product cycles do not allow the ongoing feedback and adjustments that allow rapid improvements. The vendors are eager to roll out new iterations while the industry structure does not encourage patient safety or the actual needs of hospitals and clinicians.” In other words - be careful with your first choice... it's a very long relationship and you better know what you are getting into!

He further elucidates that non-disclosure agreements (and/or other company policies) mean that when the vendors get feedback about problems, they are neither sharing them amongst all users nor are they prioritizing them based on true clinical needs. Specifically he says that “…the vendor picks and chooses on the basis of a market model and a marketing strategy, not on the basis of what is greatest for the greatest number of patients and clinicians. Now, if that were transparent and we could see that there are, of the 1,500 complaints, there have been 10,000 dealing with — those are categories of complaints — I don’t know, the impossibility of entering allergies, or when you enter an allergy, it wipes out the previous allergy. So if the first allergy was anaphylactic shock and the second was a mild rash to latex, anaphylaxis dies, disappears, and you get the mild rash to latex coming up.” In other words, do your best to make sure your vendor shares all the feedback they receive, and that the current customers have a strong say in prioritizing what gets fixed.

And I love this quote near the end: “Now, why do clinicians accept this? It’s because they didn’t go to law school. And by the way, I’m speaking very soon to a group of healthcare lawyers and the like. The CMIOs come to me and say, “Look at this, we bought this and now we can’t address this,” and the lawyers for the hospitals say, “Schmuck. People come to me with a $5,000 contract to make sure it’s passing muster. You signed a $100-million contract, and now you come to me now that you’re stuck”. Enough said.

And when asked what he would change, Dr. Koppel wishes there was simply better software to do what we all want, and intones the universal chant we are hearing more and more… “Good software includes superb usability”.

Bottom line, this interview should be required reading material for all CIOs and CMIOs working with any HIT vendors!

Also check out: The HIMSS WhitePaper on EMR Usability