Thursday, February 2, 2012

Siemens Healthcare on solving EHR usability problems: you can just call up your pal at the next hospital

In my Aug. 2009 post "Why Siemens Healthcare Fails", I wrote:

I note that I used to admire German engineering rigor, but after seeing ill conceived, misguided position ads like the following from Siemens Healthcare, I am having sincere doubts about that country's current prowess in that domain.

My admiration fell another notch. I now see this, in a Feb. 1, 2012 article from HealthData Management entitled "User Unfriendly" on the flaws in commercial health IT that present a poor user interface/user experience (at the expense, ultimately, of you, the patient). The article's browser title bar somewhat subliminally reads "Physicians gripe that EHR's are not easy to use but improvements are coming":

... There's also no mechanism for publicizing problems with EHR interfaces, unlike the FDA's process for issues with medical devices. [User interface expert Prof. Ben] Shneiderman describes a case where a physician found a bug in an EHR that created a danger to patients. "He contacted the supplier because he thought it was something other users should know about, and the response was, 'Oh, we know-we're working on it,'" Shneiderman says. "The physician said, What? You know about it and you haven't notified everyone?' Contrast that with the Federal Aviation Administration, where problems with airplanes are publicized within hours."

The IOM report calls for substantial loosening of those contractual restrictions. "The committee views prohibition of the free exchange of information to be the most critical barrier to patient safety and transparency," the report says. "The committee urges the [HHS] Secretary to take vigorous steps to restrict contractual language that impedes public sharing of patient safety-related details. Contracts should be developed to allow explicitly for sharing of health I.T. issues related to patient safety." The report also says there should be a central place to report and publicize known issues with EHR software.

Siemens apparently has a different idea on taking responsibility for the user interfaces of their products:

Siemens Healthcare Chief Medical Officer Don Rucker, M.D., says the secrecy issue is overblown. "There are trailer loads of information out there on each of these big systems, and there are so many end users that you can just call up your pal at the next hospital."

There are trailer loads of information out there, and it's up to the end user physician to find the information and sort through it?

... Sounds perfectly reasonable to me. /not/

There are so many end users that you can just call up your pal at the next hospital [for guidance on user interface complexities and errors]?

Also sounds perfectly reasonable.

... Except, I think most EMR vendors and user-organizations sort-of disable Remote Assistance, Remote Desktop and similar programs. Even "print screen" is usually either disabled or forbidden from sharing with that "pal at the other hospital." Might have something to do with security and IP protection.

Ever try to guide someone through a complex computer interface over the phone, blind, with no real-time mutually viewed visuals? It's not easy, but ... physicians and nurses have PLENTY of time for such fritter, what with the little other work they have to do.

I also think saying busy physician, nurse and other clinical customers should "depend on their pals at the next hospital" for information on health IT difficulties is a rather condescending and patronizing statement to make (to be charitable), a backyard-mechanic attitude, but that's just me.

Why does Siemens fail?

This type of statement is a very good clue.

-- SS


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