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How to Facilitate User-Centered Design in Health IT Tools

Organizations can drive the development of user-centered health IT tools with workflow analysis, rigorous usability testing, and continuous user support.

How to facilitate user-centered design in health IT tools

Source: Thinkstock

By Jessica Kent

- User-centered design in health IT tools is a relatively new phenomenon, but one that is growing increasingly common, especially as end-users continue to gripe about convoluted workflows and inaccessible data.

Creating health IT tools that offer an intuitive, streamlined interface that encourages meaningful interaction could be the key to reducing high levels of burnout while enhancing reliance on data-driven decision making.

A process model that incorporates workflow analysis, usability testing, and continuous user support could help facilitate the development of user-centered design in health IT tools in all areas of healthcare, a recent study published in JMIR Human Factors revealed.

“A rigorous process for user-centered design and implementation of health IT is critical to supporting digital innovation and contributing to evidence-based medicine,” the researchers said.

“Our experience developing and refining this process through multiple clinical decision support and other health IT projects yields a unique model for design in healthcare that, while particularly well suited to health IT development, applies to non-digital innovation as well.”

READ MORE: Top 4 Ways Providers, Vendors Can Improve EHR Usability

To encourage user-centered health IT development across the healthcare industry, the researchers developed a four-phased process model that can be adopted by developers and providers alike for the optimization of nearly any type of health IT tool.

Analyze clinical workflows

In the initial phase of the process model, researchers sought to understand the clinical workflows and responsibilities associated with the tool in development.

“User-centered design requires a deep understanding of workflow and the roles, responsibilities, and documents or data related to the tool in development,” the team said.

“Site visits or observations contribute greatly to the understanding of key issues or opportunities impacting tool building or implementation decisions.”

In addition to conducting site visits, the team worked to establish a product draft of the tool. To do so, researchers conducted an extensive literature review and an evaluation of similar products already on the market.

READ MORE: EHR Usability, Clear Benefits Drive Adoption in Behavioral Health

This first phase also featured design thinking workshops, which brought together a combination of stakeholders including potential tool users and health IT experts to provide feedback on critical elements of health IT development.

These team members participated in activities designed to identify who target users are, why they are using the tool, and the context in which they will use it.

Conduct pre-deployment usability testing

In order to ensure the optimal performance of health IT tools, organizations must perform usability testing before implementing the tool in real clinical settings, the researchers said.

“In existing models, the crucial role of usability testing both pre- and post-tool deployment is not specified or emphasized,” the researchers said.

“Given the complexities of healthcare roles and workflows, successful implementation necessitates rigorous usability testing pre- and post-deployment to truly grasp a healthcare user’s journey.”

READ MORE: Bridging the Gap Between Big Data Science, Health IT Usability

The researchers’ process model included a multiphase, pre-clinical tool testing method, in which potential users helped refine the initial prototype of the tool.

Individuals could participate in usability testing sessions and share their thoughts as they interacted with the tool. Potential users also utilized the tool in simulated clinical encounters to examine its effectiveness in healthcare settings.

Collect real-world feedback

In addition to gathering user feedback in simulated settings, researchers conducted pilot testing of the health IT tool to examine its impact in real clinical settings to uncover any usability issues before implementing the tool at a larger scale.

“Pilot testing in this phase is designed to examine tool impact on workflow, uncover usability issues, and identify educational needs to be considered before larger-scale implementation,” the team stated.

“Through the gathering and addressing of real-world user feedback from ‘live’ usability testing, the development team increases the likelihood that the final iteration released is likely to be acceptable and usable.”

Provide organizational training and support

The final phase of the model focuses on ongoing training and organizational support to improve adoption of the tool. Stakeholders should continue to discuss tool utilization and user feedback and identify any necessary modifications to enhance the tool’s performance, the team said.

“Our model prioritizes the role of training and organizational and peer support in the successful implementation of a digital tool,” the researchers wrote.  

“Training support may consist of ongoing outreach to assess and meet training needs; organizational support may include regular contact with site leaders to assess implementation and engage in ongoing optimization to the evolving workflows.”

The team stated that this process model can help organizations implement user-centered health IT, and in turn, boost clinical performance. With this four-phased approach, healthcare entities can drive the development of user-centered health IT across the industry.

“This model is a comprehensive approach to digital tool development and implementation that promotes user-centered design and development, while being uniquely equipped to account for and mediate the challenges and tensions posed by the complex, highly regulated, and high-stakes health care environment and the need in academic medicine to be first and foremost evidence-based,” the team concluded.

“This model is a critical step in building a rigorous approach to health IT design that incorporates a multidisciplinary, pragmatic perspective, combined with academic research practices and cutting-edge approaches to digital product development to meet the unique needs of healthcare.”


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