Healthcare IT News October Issue featured SBMI Interim Dean Jiajie Zhang, PhD

Published October 15, 2012 by Sarah Kelly


What is the importance of improved usability for Electronic Health Records? Will better ease of use for EHRs improve the quality of healthcare? Learn the answers to these questions in the Healthcare IT News article featuring Jiajie Zhang, PhD, Interim Dean of the School of Biomedical Informatics.

Zhang is the principle investigator of the Office of the National Coordinator’s SHARPC initiative, which provides leadership in patient-centered cognitive support research and applications in healthcare. A key focus of the SHARPC program is usability along with workflow and cognitive support.

Read a section of the Healthcare IT News article about EHR usability:

Object of beauty, or ungainly nuisance?

October 02, 2012 | Bernie Monegain, Editor

New efforts focus on EHR usability, and findings are not pretty

Beauty, they say, is in the eye of the beholder. What about usability when it comes to machines and especially software? Is the ease with which software displays and moves, how nimble, how flexible the program is or is not  -  is that, too, a matter of subjectivity, in the eye of the operator? Or is it more a matter of design and engineering?  Is it unreasonable to expect elegance?

These are all questions bubbling in the healthcare IT cauldron as physicians grapple with a love-hate relationship with their electronic health record systems. One minute they find their EHRs exasperating, the next, they give digital systems credit for saving them  -  and their patients  -  from the chaos of paper charts and manila folders.

"EHRs are not bad at everything," asserts Jiajie Zhang, director of the government's SHARP program, which is looking into all matters connected to EHR usability. Zhang also serves as interim dean, University of Texas School of Biomedical Informatics at Houston.

"If you ask a provider/user, 'if you have a chance to go back to paper are you going to do it?' Most of them said not, Zhang says. 'I hate it, but I love it.'  They expect more because their experience with other electronic products like the iPhone and other things is much better. So they expect more from EHR vendors."

Usability gets attention

EHR usability was top of mind with the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) as it hatched its plan for projects in support of the meaningful use incentive program. The Strategic Health IT Research Projects (SHARP)  -  there are four  -  all of them established, in the words of the ONC, to "address well-documented problems that impede the adoption of health IT.

One of the four projects, the one headed by Zhang, is focused on usability, workflow and cognitive support issues. It addresses work-centered design, cognitive foundations for clinical decision-making, adaptive clinical support, clinical summarization and visualization and information design.

With the release of the final certification rules for meaningful use Stage 2 on September 4, the ONC took usability beyond research and required usability testing to attain EHR certification.

Zhang views the rule as "game-changing.”

"We as well as many other stakeholders have been pushing very hard to make EHR usability as a requirement for meaningful use," says Zhang "We tried to get it in Stage 1. It did not happen. Finally, we're glad that it's now part of Stage 2."

SHARP is developing guidelines, a toolkit and software to help vendors improve EHR usability faster and more efficiently.

To attain certification for their EHRs, the vendors will have to demonstrate they have used a user-centered process to evaluate their product and report the results in a specific template. The vendors have to show all eight meaningful use cases enumerated in the final rule have been through some kind usability testing.

"It's pretty straightforward," Zhang says. "It's process oriented. You simply have to show that you used this process to conduct your evaluation and you have some results.”

Read the full article or view it on page four of the October Issue of Healthcare IT News.