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December 09, 2010

New Federal Reports Provide Guidance on EHR Usability


To help developers and vendors improve the usability of electronic health records, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has released two publications on EHR design processes and usability testing. The first publication, NIST Guide to the Processes Approach for Improving the Usability of Electronic Health Records(NISTIR 7741) provides guidance on employing "user-centered-design" processes throughout an EHR product life cycle. The second,  Customized Common Industry Format Template for Electronic Health Record Usability Testing(NISTIR 7742) provides a standard reporting format (known as the Common User Industry format) adopted and customized for testing EHR systems.

The NIST Guide recommends a user-centered design (UCD) process for developing electronic records formats, with a strong focus on understanding user needs, designing user interfaces on the basis of known human behavior principles, conducting usability tests, and enhancing designs and features until usability objectives are met. An earlier report prepared by the HHS Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) uncovered a need for more standardized approaches and formats for EHR vendors to use in testing the usability of their systems.

The new NIST publications are part of a federal effort, led by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) to help providers adopt and use EHRs that can bring about broad quality improvements and cost savings in the healthcare system.

In addition to assisting vendors and EHR users, the NIST reports will support standard approaches in evaluating and comparing the usability of EHR systems across vendors,


Ms. Graham is a writer and editor with a current focus on health and wellness. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Erin Monda

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