5 ways to make your EMR more user-friendly

One of the biggest objections to the adoption of an <a href="/directory/electronic-medical-record-emr" target="_blank" class="directory-item-link">EMR is its usability (or lack thereof), which is no surprise considering the ease of its predecessor: paper. Thankfully, there are a few ways to make your system not only more bearable, but significantly easier to use.

“There are several guidelines that have been published, [and each] cover particular OS, whether it be Mac, Unix, or Windows,” said Bob Hunchberger, a clinical informaticist for a 500-bed hospital. “If your application will be deployed in the PC world, it’s important that you adhere to the standards that are implemented in the Windows world. Why? Because Microsoft has ‘trained’ its users for more than a decade what behaviors to expect from applications that run in that environment.”

Hunchberger suggests five practical ways to make your EMR more user friendly. 

1. Use appropriate controls consistently. Placement is everything, said Hunchberger. He suggests controls that initiate actions be near the top left, while those that complete actions near the bottom left. “Placement and behavior of the ‘OK,’ ‘Cancel,’ and ‘Apply’ buttons is important,” he said. “Users look for them in the bottom right. The three buttons have a consistent behavior of accepting the user’s response and closing the dialog, canceling the response and leaving the dialog, and accepting many responses without leaving the dialog. Placement is crucial in a top-left-bottom-right reading/scanning society.” Additionally, Hunchberger pointed out controls that appear in different locations or placements are distracting. “From dialog to dialog and page to page, the behavior should be the same; users expect it,” he said. “They become confused and frustrated when they invoke an action, and it doesn’t do what they’ve come to expect from hours of experience with Windows Office products or Windows programs at home.”

2. Standardize task sequences. Hunchberger said the system should be consistent with how users complete tasks, whether it’s left to right or top to bottom in dialogs and pages. Controls that initiate tasks should be located at the top left, and the workflow should follow a logical sequence from top to bottom,” he said. “Don’t have the user start at the bottom, then move to the top, then back to the bottom – if the task is too complex, use multiple pages or a wizard, but be consistent in how the user completes the task.” Completing the task, he continued, should involve the same “button grammar” and placement, so the user quickly learns the process and isn’t distracted or interrupted. “The user shouldn’t have to say to themselves, ‘On this page, I need to start at the bottom and work up,’” he said. “Or, ‘On this page, the final action button is on the left.’”

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