Newswise — Two new publications from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are intended to help developers of software and computer systems for doctors' offices, clinics, and hospitals improve the ease of use of electronic health records (EHRs). These 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 health care system.

Efforts to improve the usability* of EHRs are widely recognized as key to achieving widespread adoption and meaningful use of these systems. A recent report prepared by the HHS Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) identified gaps in the processes and practices used by EHR vendors to ensure the usability of their products. One key finding from the report highlighted the lack of standard approaches and formats for testing and reporting usability of EHR products across the industry.

In coordination with its federal partners, NIST published the following guides to support EHR system developers in demonstrating evidence of the use of key elements of user-centered-design principles and to support standard approaches in evaluating and comparing the usability of EHR systems.

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.

•User-centered design focuses of 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.

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.

These documents and other materials related to NIST activities to advance EHR usability are available here, under publications.

AHRQ research related to EHR usability is available here.

*The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) defines usability as the "effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction with which the intended users can achieve their tasks in the intended context of product use."

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