5 Reasons Why EMR Usability Is Hard

It's complicated.

Category: EMR Musings

5 Reasons Why EMR Usability Is Hard

Most people hate using EMRs. Whether you're a medical assistant, nurse, or physician, you likely struggle with at least one aspect of the usability of your EMR workflows. 

According to this 2013 Deloitte study on Physician adoption of healthcare information technology, only 15% of physicians said they were very satisfied with their EMR.

The issue isn't restricted to just a single EMR vendor. Even the top leaders in the industry - Epic, Cerner, athenahealth, are plagued by complaints that their software is difficult to use.

So why are EMR's so hard to use?

1. Physicians are busy

It’s tough to truly make a user friendly system if your most vocal user base is busy all the time. With hours spent in clinic, surgery, rotations, research, and teaching, there’s little time left for them to learn how to use an EMR, and provide input on how to make it work for them.

2. Support staff aren’t permitted to work up to their scope of practice

Due to factors such as state regulations, risk aversion due to potential costly lawsuits, resistance to change, or a combination of all of these, healthcare systems often don’t empower their support staff, to work up to a moderate scope of practice. As a result, physicians are often stuck doing glorified data entry, which can give them a negative experience with the system. 

3. Expectations are high

We live in an age where software is constantly being created, updated, and improved. Users have come to expect a certain level of usability in their experience, and users of EMRs are no different. “Why can’t this just be easier to use?” is a common complaint familiar to those who’ve worked in health IT.

4. The IT team doesn’t have the time or resources to create quality, usable content

More than likely, you work in an organization that rushed to implement an EMR that would fulfill Meaningful Use requirements. As a result, your team never had time to design a truly usable system, and any spare time is probably spent on fixing broken issues and upgrade preparation. This leaves little time for your analysts to optimize the system to improve physician happiness.

5. Regulations can hamper innovation

Incentive-based reporting systems such as Meaningful Use, while they were created with good intentions, certainly haven’t fostered usability. Workflows designed to capture data for these programs are often cumbersome, and decrease the satisfaction of most users.

It's tough to create and configure an EMR that your users will truly love. People today expect software to be magical and work perfectly, and that's a hard thing to do in the medical industry. Healthcare IT department managers should make sure to take the time to listen to their users, as it's difficult to realize all of the efficiencies of a powerful system if your users can't get past the fact that they're constantly frustrated with it.

Nick Zussman

Nick spent four years working at Epic helping healthcare organizations implement and optimize systems for thousands of physicians

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