As a relatively healthy individual, I have little use for consumer health IT devices or applications. However, when I received an invitation to sign into the patient portal offered by my health care provider — a system called Patient Gateway — I was excited to log in and check out my health records. I was even more excited to learn that I could book an appointment using the portal because my preferred mode of communication is online rather than by telephone.
So I clicked on the “request an appointment” button, selected my primary care doc’s name, entered the reason for my appointment and clicked “next.” I expected to be presented with some sort of calendar of available appointment times (similar to the application I use to schedule service appointments for my car), and to be able to select a time slot that worked for me. Instead I saw a message stating that someone from the office would call me to schedule the appointment.
The appointment booking function of my patient portal was a waste of time, at least for me. How was this any easier than just picking up the phone and calling the office to book an appointment? The return phone call happened to come when I was in a meeting with a co-worker, so it was actually less convenient to use the online function than to just call them at a time that worked for me.
Maybe my expectations were too high. After all, the button said “request an appointment,” not “book an appointment.” But I couldn’t help but wonder who designed this aspect of the patient portal system, and whether the designers had considered its usefulness (or lack of it).
My annoyance with the patient portal’s appointment system is only a drop of water in the ocean of human factors that affect the usability of health IT applications and devices. What if I only spoke Swahili, and couldn’t use the portal at all? What if I didn’t have internet access at home or at work?
Fortunately, more resources are becoming available to address the issue of health IT usability at home. A recent publication, Consumer Health Information Technology in the Home: A Guide for Human Factors Design Considerations, is a great resource for guidance and human factors design considerations in the development of consumer health IT applications.
The guide offers an in-depth look at:
- The consumers using health IT
- The equipment and technologies being used in the home
- The tasks being conducted at home
- The characteristics of the home and its environment
- Why culture is important
While health care CIOs and clinicians are not responsible for designing and developing these applications and devices, they are responsible for adopting and prescribing them. Having an understanding of the human factor considerations in consumer health IT will be helpful for these decision makers.
For example, a clinician who prescribes a home monitoring device may need to consider several factors, such as:
- Are there any language barriers for the patient using the device?
- Does the patient have any developmental or physical disabilities that would make it difficult to use the device?
- Does the device require an internet connection? If so, does the patient have one?
- Does the patient have a caregiver who needs to know how to use the device?
Additionally, a health care CIO who is choosing a patient portal system should have an understanding of the human factors and how they might relate to the organization’s patient population.