Expect the Unexpected: A common user interface for the Electronic Medical Record

Jim Lynch, R.N. is quoted by Health Data Management's on-line news service on remarks he recently made during a presentation at the 77th Convention and Exhibit of the American Health Information Management Association. In his address, "Electronic Medical Records: Expect the Unexpected", Mr. Lynch recounts the plaudits and pitfalls encountered at Oklahoma City-based Integris Health during the implementation of their EMR. He says, “A major part of the problem was that the electronic record was not easy to use--the interface is not as simple as Microsoft Word, and many physicians had absolutely no computer skills.”

Indeed! Why is it that EMR interfaces have to be so challenging for clinicians? The typical community physician in many American cities admits patients to more than one hospital. In my own community, it's not unusual for docs to call on three or four differenent hospitals. One hospital might use Meditech; another IDX; another Cerner; and yet another something else. Even if any one of these systems had the "perfect" user interface, how can a clinician become proficient on all of them? How much training would that take!

There is a contempory user interface that most clinicians, even those who don't have robust computer skills, use all the time. It's called the Web. Whether managing their 401(k), checking the market, or buying an airline ticket, most docs know what to do. And how much training does it take? Virtually none!

Sometime soon, we need to standardize on a common user interface for the EMR, and the more that interface looks and feels like the Web and functions more like the commodity information worker tools that are so ubiquitous on the market today, the better off our cash-strapped hospitals will be. No wonder so many hospitals are developing rich portal solutions around their core clinical and administrative applications. Perhaps without even knowing it, they are standardizing on an interface for healthcare; One that clinical end-users can simply walk up to, and start using without any training at all.

What do you think? Let us know.

Bill Crounse, MD, Global Healthcare Industry Manager, Microsoft Healthcare and Life Sciences