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The Importance of User Experience

by Mary Kate Foley, VP of User Experience

Hopefully you got a chance to read the blog post from Jonathan Bush about the hard lessons a company like athenahealth can learn from what’s happened to Research In Motion, or RIM, maker of BlackBerry mobile devices. He laid out the case well and it gives me a chance to talk about the importance of User Experience, or UX, in health IT

Let me start off by saying I want athenahealth users to have an online experience that is fluid, easy, efficient, and well-matched to the needs of various people across a medical practice. The UX (aka the user interface or UI) should deliver on the promise of our cloud-based services, such as our EHR, every time a person interacts with our application. The ease and value should be immediately apparent.

Sounds good, right? But it’s not so simple to do. Our industry has been talking about EHRs for years now, and if it were simple to make EHRs easy to use, we’d be done by now. We’re not. EHRs need to support a wide variety of health care contexts, specialties, provider types and patients. What works in one context for one type of user can be an annoying hindrance to another user in a different context.

Cracking the usability nut in one particular situation is fantastic, but not sufficient. Getting the UX consistently fluid and efficient for all users is an ongoing process, given the complexity of the cooperative work in health care.

At athenahealth, we hear a lot of requests—usually reasonable—for additional features. But at some point we have to be able to step back and realize that unless we invest in UX to unify and streamline individual features, the availability of those features won’t matter very much. It’s difficult to get the right level of investment in both the whole and the parts at the same time. That’s what we’re in the thick of now at athenahealth. We don’t want to find ourselves left behind in the market, like RIM did.

Rather than cover UX exhaustively in this blog post, I’d like to start an ongoing discussion over the next few months around these main points:

  • The status of UX in the health care IT industry
  • The role of UX at athenahealth
  • The central importance of patient safety in UX
  • The role of usage metrics

I envision this as a discussion around the usability of EHRs and I welcome comments that focus on the issues without getting into the weeds of athenaNet UX. So let’s get a discussion about usability started! And stay tuned for our next installment.

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