Core Technologies

Nine Essential Principles of Software Usability for EMRs

These nine essential principles of software usability can be applied directly to the evaluation of EMR systems for clinician practices. While usability principles apply to all software, this set has been assessed and put forth as being those principles of key concern related to EMRs.

Access sample clinical scenarios, test tasks, potential tasks, benchmarking examples, matched to one of the nine essential principles of EMR usability. Also included is a sample patient safety checklist.

1. Simplicity

  • No information or visual elements are included that are not necessary to the task.
  • Important information stands out, and function options are easy to understand.
  • The application has clear, clean, uncluttered screen design.
  • Functionality is limited to that which is essential to core tasks and decision making.

2. Naturalness

  • The screen metaphors are familiar to everyday life, or commonly expected computer experiences for the clinician.
  • Workflows match the needs of the practice.
  • The application appears intuitive and easy to learn; training will not be an overwhelming process.

3. Consistency

  • All the different parts of the application have the same look and feel, consistent placement of screen elements, etc.
  • Terminology and data entry fields are used consistently. Understanding how one screen works helps you understand how other screens work.

4. Forgiveness and Feedback

  • It is hard to lose data or destroy time-consuming effort with a wrong click or wrong choice of buttons.
  • If you make a mistake, the application helps you avoid it or the application provides a method to recover from errors gracefully (the system is “forgiving”).
  • The system provides informative feedback to the user about actions they are about to take or have taken.
  • Information is provided to the user when the system is processing, indicating what is occurring and how long it might take.

5. Effective Use of Language

  • The application uses the same words that your clinicians use (while providing mapping to standardized codes and terms used for data retrieval).
  • List or entry-form choices are clear and unambiguous.
  • Sentences read like natural English (or the selected language).

6. Efficient Interactions

  • The application minimizes the number of steps it takes to complete tasks; appropriate defaults are always provided.
  • The application provides navigation options such as shortcuts for use by frequent and/or experienced users.
  • Navigation methods minimize user movements such as scrolling and switching between typing and mouse clicking.

7. Effective Information Presentation

  • Information on screens includes sufficient white-space and large enough fonts to be read easily with high comprehension. No information should be in all upper case.
  • Colors are used to convey meaning (e.g. red to indicate medical urgency), not just for visual appeal.

8. Preservation of Context

  • The application keeps screen changes and visual interruptions to a minimum during completion of a particular task.

9. Minimize Cognitive Load

  • Information needed for a particular task or decision making is grouped together on a single screen rather than requiring the user to mentally integrate information from multiple screens in the system.
  • Alerts presented to the user are concise and informative with clear actions, and are appropriate in number.
  • The application performs calculations automatically for the clinician so that they do not have to manually perform the calculations.

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