One of the topics that seems to getting more attention as we strive to push health IT more into the mainstream is usability. Prior to fully immersing myself in the health sector seven years ago, I worked for a major Canadian system integrator and had an internal usability team reporting to me. This team joined the company through the acquisition of a small but innovative Canadian Internet consulting company and we struggled at times to demonstrate its value to the rest of the organization. In working with this team to figure out how best to sell their services to our clients, I learned a lot about usability and the importance of taking usability into account during the design stage.
I came across what I think is a succinct summary of why usability is so important to the health sector. Of particular interest in this article is the table listing five “usability myths” and corresponding “usability facts”. One of myth in particular resonated with me – “Usability is entirely a matter of subjective opinion”. As the article points out, this rather commonly held view is completely false and there are indeed a variety of criteria that can be applied to assess usability.
I believe that one of the greatest challenges that we have to realizing the full benefits of digitizing our health system is usability. As the article points out, a report published by the National Research Council (“Computational Technology for Effective Health Care: Immediate Steps and Strategic Directions“) points out that ““…the nationwide deployment of health IT will not be sufficient to achieve the vision of 21st century healthcare, and may even set back the cause…. [Success] will require greater emphasis on providing cognitive support for healthcare providers.” Failure to address cognitive usability is a very real possibility, one that must be addressed more aggressively in my view.