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My Inspiration and Drive to Re-imagine and Redesign an EMR

by Mary Kate Foley, VP of User Experience

Editor's note: athenahealth Vice President of User Experience, Mary Kate Foley, recently spoke with the folks behind HxRefactored (HxR), a conference that brings together designers and developers to improve the health experience. Reading Mary Kate’s responses, I gained an even greater appreciation for the difficult job designers and developers have, specifically when it relates to something that touches all of us – our health. For Mary Kate, her drive to improve health care and, more specifically, caregivers’ experience with an electronic medical record (EMR), is a personal one. - Michelle Mangino, Social Media Manager

What is your burning mission in health and why?
Mary Kate: Here’s what keeps me up at night: creating an experience for clinicians that expresses the complete story of the patient and their health so simply and so elegantly that no essential data is overlooked, the doctor can connect with the patient rather than the computer, and no critical information is lost as the patient moves around and interacts with different parts of the health system. Our industry has been so far from that today: EMRs overwhelm doctors and distract them from their patients with interminable dropdowns and popups, and the burden of constructing the complete picture falls on the patient. That’s why for the past several years our User Experience (UX) team at athenahealth has been re-imagining an EMR that is simple, elegant, and upholds connection and care between patient and provider across the healthcare continuum.

What is your patient story?
Mary Kate: I believe strongly that human-centered design is an incredibly powerful lever for making healthcare work the way it should, supporting informed care and connecting the dots in masses of data. Technology can and should enable, and never hinder, a humane, respectful experience for people and their care team. Several tough patient experiences have shown me how crucial this work of supporting connection is. My sister went to a new doctor who, when faced with my sister’s thick paper chart, didn’t find the most critical piece of her history, which delayed diagnosis and treatment for her returned cancer for months. My husband was told of a suspicious shadow on his brain scan three years after the scan was taken, because, as one doctor said, “I sent it to your PCP’s EMR—but the EMR does have a lot of pretty small text.” Paper or digital, the root problem is the same: critical data gets overwhelmed in the haystacks of information, doctors get distracted by interruptions, and clinically relevant information gets lost during handoffs. Patients who are already deeply engaged like my husband and my sister can’t advocate for their own care because information didn’t flow and because that critical connection between them and their doctors was not made. Patients and doctors need to be aligned around the same goals and focused on the same relevant data, so once again we need to focus on connection, both technical and personal.

What new health-related website, app, or technology do you think will improve health?
Mary Kate: I'm both excited by emerging trends in consumer health, and also something of a contrarian. I love the personal devices that passively collect our data and the social apps that try to keep us all invested in improving our stats. I’ve seen many apps that are promising, but I feel we’re mostly still in the exploratory phase. Health care IT needs to do a better job of curating information and making it flow. The data needs to be more than personal and rapid: it needs to be relevant, secure, seamless, and trusted. And we in UX need to keep designing for continued engagement: otherwise, the shininess will wear off and that Fitbit will be only as effective as the bathroom scale has been at fighting obesity—which is to say, not very much.

If you’re attending the HxRefactored Conference later this month, be sure to catch Mary Kate’s presentation, “Cracking the Code: From Idea to Delivery, Better Design for Health Care,” May 14 at 3:00 p.m. Follow @mkfoley77 on Twitter.

This interview originally appeared on HxRefactored.

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