May 2012 print feature: The art of medicine

Allscripts’ Stanley Crane says the new Wand app aims to offer a simplified EHR interface.

Bringing good design to bear on health IT

We're living in an iOS world nowadays, but sometimes, to look at them, it seems EHRs are stuck in a Windows '97 rut.

With more and more people spending their time bathed in the sleek and handsome glow of iPhones, iPads and MacBooks, its hard not to feel bad sometimes for docs and nurses who have to spend their days interfacing with PC-based EHRs: busy blue-gray windows filled with dense text and innumerable check-boxes, scroll bars and drop-down menus beckoning.

"The way EHRs and EMRs are built is reminiscent of early 2000s or late '90s Microsoft product line," says Warren Wiechmann, faculty director of instructional Technologies at the University of California Irvine.

Still, while perhaps more attention could be paid to "user interface and functionality," he says, "they get the job done" – even if "actually using them on a daily basis is pretty cumbersome."

Some vendors will tell you they have little choice: The laundry list of meaningful use and certification requirements all but necessitate a crowding of the visual field.

And, at any rate, whatever energy and capital might go into prettying up the EHRs are being expended working round the clock to meet MU.

"I was on a CCHIT workgroup," says Stanley Crane, chief innovation officer for Allscripts, "and I remember going back and looking at all the options they wanted the vendor community to build in."

Suffice it to say, there were a lot of them. "Moses had 10 commandments," says Crane. "CCHIT had 10,000 commandments."

But when setting out to develop Allscripts' new Wand iPad app – which offers distilled down and simplified access to Allscripts EHRs, Crane says he had the words of one frustrated physician ringing in his ears: "Why can't it just be easy?"

As it happens, Wiechmann is using the Allscripts product in a new clinical program at UC Irvine. He says its interface is "very Apple-like in [its] approach to design. … Compared to the standard EMR, on the iPad product it looks really slick."

With more and more physicians availing themselves of sexy mobile devices, expect more vendors to follow suit. After all, it would be a shame to waste the iPad 3's much-hyped, high-resolution "retina" screen on software that looks like it dates from the Clinton administration.

If EHR functionality has dominated the discussion – and developers' to-do lists – for the past few years, smart design is starting to get the attention it deserves.