Seven questions with Jiajie Zhang

Jiajie Zhang is co-director of the National Center for Cognitive Informatics and Decision Making in Healthcare at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. He is also principal investigator, government's SHARP-C Project, which is addressing into EHR usability issues.


Healthcare IT News talked with him about his research into the challenges surroung use of electronic health record systems.


In your research so far, what have you found to be the most challenging – the toughest nut to crack?

The toughest nut to crack for us is to get the EHR vendors to work on their products’ usability systematically. Only a small number of EHR vendors have their in-house team doing EHR usability. Most EHR vendors do not do that systematically. They may do that informally here and there, but have not spent effort to do that systematically.


So usability has not normally been part of their routine in terms of developing their products?

Some EHR vendors think that usability is common sense, and that everybody can do it. They don’t realize that it is a profession – just like an architect. It needs to be done systematically and by professionals, of course, who are doing this as their job. Other vendors simply dismiss it altogether and have the impression that it is subjective, not scientific and not useful. For other vendors, they do want to do it, but they do not have the budget to do it. From our perspective we know that what we do here is to view usability as a science. Actually, it is a scientific field built on many years of research and practice in many other fields. The toughest task for us is to convince the vendors to do it. This is especially good timing because, for the Stage 2 meaningful use, usability may be part of the certification. If this happens, it will give vendors more incentive to do it now.


How much of your research involves talking with physicians on what works for them and what doesn’t?