Quick note: Usability of Electronic Health Records

ucRelated to my previous rant blog post on the un-usability of electronic health records, usability consulting company User Centric has just released two white papers on the usability of these systems.

Just for clarification, electronic health records (EHRs) are what the doctor uses to manage your test results, etc., and personal health records (PHRs) are what consumers use to manage their own health information:

How to Select an Electronic Health Record System that Healthcare Professionals Can Use

This article reviews implementation and procurement guidelines for EHRs and found that emphasis on the usability of these systems is low. The focus is on integration and technology with little to no attention on the actual usability of the system. One key barrier to implementation is basic usability and productivity concerns. User Centric took a look at dozens of Requests for Proposal and procurement guidelines for EHRs to learn how usability was addressed. We found only three addressed user experience. The white paper, “How to Select an Electronic Health Record System that Healthcare Professionals Can Use,” presents an approach for specifying usability requirements and assessing EHR systems relative to these requirements.

For the abstract, download the white paper.

Google Health vs. Microsoft HealthVault: Consumers Compare Online PHR Applications

Our research uncovered some interesting findings when consumers compared Google Health and Microsoft HealthVault. In fact, this research prompted User Centric to develop guidelines for personal health record applications to facilitate user adoption. For a complete list of these guidelines, visit http://www.usercentric.com/publications/2009/01/phr-recommendations/

Download the white paper “Usability Guidance for Improving the User Interface and Adoption of Online Personal Health Records,”

The Human Factors “elevator speech”

I was in the elevator with someone from our college grants office and a colleague who does research on medical devices and human factors (and is currently teaching a seminar on the topic).

She asked my colleague, “what does psychology have to do with medical equipment?”

After giving her a few sentences about the importance of understanding user capabilities and limitations, she seemed unimpressed and unconvinced 🙂

If you have a more convincing elevator speech for human factors/usability, please chime in! Peter from the daily human factor had a post on this topic last month.

Google PowerMeter

We’ve spoken before about the role of human factors in energy conservation. It looks like Google is taking a big step toward raising awareness of home energy usage from your desktop.  With the installation of home energy meters, you may soon be able to track your own power usage:

Google PowerMeter, now in prototype, will receive information from utility smart meters and energy management devices and provide anyone who signs up access to her home electricity consumption right on her iGoogle homepage.


They have taken a similar approach to your health maintenance with Google Health by incorporating actual health data from sensors, doctors, pharmacies and showing you the data.

With all of this sensor aggregation comes issues of automation (again), the best ways to present data/visualization, ease interpretation, as well as issues of technology acceptance (e.g., privacy versus utility).  It looks like we human factors people will be busy for a long time, thanks Google!

High-tech Grandma

This really isn’t human factors related other than the fact that my research interests include older adults and the web.  Just to give you a teaser, here is some of the grandmother’s dialog:

The other day, I was hacking around thinking I was running port forwarding my POP packets through SSH encrypted tunnels.  Turns out I got the port number wrong and I ended up encrypting all UDP traffic outboard through my router’s gateway.

No More “Reply All” at Marketing Company

Link to original article and follow up:

120px-mail-reply-allsvgWe have noticed that the “Reply to All” functionality results in unnecessary inbox clutter. Beginning Thursday we will eliminate this function, allowing you to reply only to the sender. Responders who want to copy all can do so by selecting the names or using a distribution list.

Eliminating the “Reply to All” function will:

• Require us to copy only those who need to be involved in an e-mail conversation
• Reduce non-essential messages in mailboxes, freeing up our time as well as server space

I almost think this must be an early April Fool’s joke.  I see what they are getting at, and I’ve certainly seen many reply-all errors (ranging from annoying to disastrous), but it is a very useful feature. How about making it less easy to access (and less likely to accidentally access)?

Note: Do not confuse Nielsen the marketing company who made this decision with  Jakob Nielsen, the usability expert.