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By Jenna Date, Chief Experience Officer for Healthcare Solutions at Allscripts

It’s safe to say that digital health tools, including electronic health records (EHRs), haven’t always sparked excitement and joy among clinicans and providers. There are no excuses for poor usability, but there are some valid reasons why it’s been tough to maximize the promises of digital healthcare.

We know that the EHR is a very complicated technology operating in a highly challenging, ever-changing environment. And we know that the industry has not always capitalized on its greatest asset: the talented clinical users who have valuable ideas about what their systems ought to be able to achieve.

As we mark ten years since the Affordable Care Act (ACA), we are now entering a new phase of the digital health revolution — one in which human-centered design is poised to ensure EHR technology is safe, usable, and useful.

What is human-centered design?

 Human-centered design (HCD) is a series of practices and methodologies that solves for any problem small or large. In the context of healthcare technology, the process focuses on identifying and delivering experiences that clinicians and physicians intrinsically need and desire. HCD works within the agile development process, feeding requirements with ‘in context observations’ and then usability testing at every step of the way with the goal to create experiences that are effective, intuitive, and even enjoyable.

Bringing human-centered design to healthcare technology

For example, my company, Allscripts, is working to create a new mobile experience for hospital providers. We started by shadowing acute care physicians and observing how they perform their day-to-day work. We found the majority of their pre-charting and post-visit charting takes place in the 30 seconds to three minutes between patients. Because there isn’t an easy and robust system in the palm of physicians’ hands, these moments where high productivity could occur were paused with walking to and from desktops. We also found that engaging with technology in this manner was creating a heavy cognitive load and alert fatigue. Frustrating experiences with their EHRs made it more difficult for physicians to focus on what matters most — the patient.

After shadowing physicians, we met one-on-one with them to understand their pain points and directly involve them in the innovation process. This gave them the opportunity to have their voice heard, and help us solve for the technical problems they see every day. The top takeaway of these sessions wasn’t really a surprise. Technology needs to get simpler. In the ever-changing and complicated world of healthcare, I understand that simple is hard. But I truly believe that by leveraging the principles of human-centered design, we can achieve a simple eco-system that focuses on the patient.

Achieving a simpler digital health experience

 How will we know when we’re approaching the goal line? As an expert strategist and educator in human-centered design, one of my top criteria for success is the highest level of safety and caring our clinicians and physicians provide patients. We can achieve that together by simplifying, enabling quick and intuitive action, quieting the regulatory noise and, in the process, lowering the cognitive burden.

It’s important to remember that, even with human-centered design, there’s no single, magic bullet for the digital health experience. It will take sustained and collaborative effort from across the industry to make technology simultaneously simpler and more powerful. Ultimately, if we build a delightful technology that does the job well, and if people love it — if it feels good and flows with their day — then we all win. Physicians win, and more importantly, the patient wins.

About the Author

Jenna Date, Chief Experience Officer for Healthcare Solutions at Allscripts