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Three things EHR vendors can learn from Apple

Maryann Lambert, Senior Health IT Consultant, CureMD
Maryann Lambert, Senior Health IT Consultant, CureMD

Ask any healthcare provider about their experience with electronic health records (EHR) and chances are you’ll get a dirty look. It’s not because these medical professionals hate technology and kick and scream at any interaction with it; it’s because the technology they are using, in this case EHRs, is ridiculously frustrating to use.

Research from MedStar Health illustrates a common scenario in the health IT space: EHR systems are difficult to use because vendors never bother to ask doctors and other clinicians how they would actually use them.

Raj Ratwani, Senior Human Factors Research Scientist at the MedStar National Center for Human Factors Engineering and the principle author of the published study said it best, “Many draw comparisons to technology on the consumer market and say, ‘Why can’t these products just be easy to use like my iPhone?'”

Yeah, why can’t they?

Vendors don’t test

It may surprise you to learn that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services requires EHR vendors to actually demonstrate how they have designed their products and services specifically around users’ needs. This demonstration is supposed to include testing EHR systems with real, live clinicians, but very few vendors bother to do this step.

Ratwani and his team found that when they evaluated required vendor reports, more than 60% did not meet testing criteria. On top of this, nearly one in five vendors failed to indicate whether or not they even showed their EHR system to a single doctor when testing the usability. Often the systems seemed to be tested on employees rather than actual medical professionals.

This is disconcerting because when there is poor usability with an EHR system, frustrations will rise and so will errors. In the medical profession, there simply is no room for errors.

Let’s take a cue from Apple

An Apple a day keeps the doctor away? Apples aren’t just good for patients, they can be good for the entire medical community when it comes to getting technology to work properly and easily.

When we look to a company like Apple, which updates tech products every few years, we have to wonder how they have been so incredibly successful in a very competitive market. When you study how this business operates, it’s easy to see why they have become the most successful company in the last 50 years.

Here are three things EHR vendors can learn from Apple:

1. Apple creates technology specifically for their users

We’ve already touched on this point a little bit. When an EHR vendor designs technology without getting input from the medical community, who are they designing their “solution” for? It seems many are creating their system simply to cash in on the massive shift to electronic records and get into the space to claim their piece of the pie.

Apple approaches product development very differently. When Steve Jobs was alive, he represented a real Apple customer and made sure the engineers created products he would want and need to use. Though the tech nerds at Apple might like to develop technology just for the sake of developing something ‘cool,’ all products MUST BE CREATED with the end users’ needs in mind.

2. Apple’s products MUST be easy to use

Anyone who worked with Steve Jobs will tell you that when it came to usability, Jobs was ADAMANT Apple’s products were incredibly easy for the average consumer to use. If a product prototype was found to be too complex, it was deemed worthless to the consumer and the project was scrapped.

Imagine if EHR vendors ensured their products were intuitive and easy to learn and use! Imagine if they followed Apple’s lead and put ease-of-use before anything else.

3. Apple offers top-shelf customer service

Steve Jobs thought like a consumer. He knew that, even if his team of engineers created technology that was incredibly simple to use, there would still be complexity because different users want that technology to do different things. Go into any Apple store and you’ll find highly-knowledgeable staff members who can hold your hand and help you through any tech challenge.

Once a consumer explains what they need to one of these Apple employees, they are quickly and efficiently taken care of, generally right there on the spot. Consumers can also call up an Apple technician on the phone to trouble shoot and get help with any questions they have.

Now compare this to an interaction with a typical EHR vendor. Call them up with a problem and you are likely going to be told:

  1. A) You’re not using their system right.
  2. B) No one else in the entire history of the company has ever reported the issue you are having.
  3. C) (after listening to your problem) They explain what you want would require a programming change, and this is unlikely going to happen as all programming changes are selected at the annual user’s meeting after all requests have been assessed and prioritized.
  4. D) If you don’t get “C” you’ll most likely be told they don’t make any changes, period, or they can customize a solution for you but it will costs a bazillion dollars per hour.

All of these user problems could have been avoided if the system had been designed with clinicians in mind. But since it wasn’t, doctors and other medical professionals get their hands slapped when asking for help.

It’s time for EHR vendors to take a cue from Apple and get their technology acts together. If you want to be a leader in the IT industry and claim a huge share of the market, there’s no better way than to truly give a damn, develop systems with the user in mind, and offer incredible customer service.