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Electronic Medical Records Design: Five Things I Love About You

Recommendations for designing user-friendly electronic medical records for use by healthcare providers and clinicians.

Drawing of doctor with their arms crossed

August 24, 2022

Medical records have always been a foundation for providing patient care. Healthcare workers must collect and consolidate patients’ medical histories, reported symptoms, and laboratory results to paint a comprehensive picture of their health. Nowadays, most of these records are electronic, and referred to as electronic medical records (EMRs).

Several developers have entered the EMR arena; while their systems all have similar content, they can vary significantly in design. When designing an EMR system, it is important to consider how design can facilitate safe and effective use. Poor usability could lead to unintended consequences and patient harm.

Key concepts for designing effective EMR platforms

Consider the following five concepts when developing an EMR platform:

  • Implement accurate and sufficient labeling. For example, labels and icons should describe a button's functionality and minimize reliance on users to intuit its purpose. Alerts and error messages should also provide sufficient feedback for users to understand how to proceed.
  • Limit multi-functional words and controls. Controls should perform a single action, and terms should have a single meaning within the system. Consistency will build user understanding and confidence in the system.
  • Differentiate default settings and unique inputs. Many EMR systems allow users to import templated settings and/or notes. When changing default settings, users might overlook templated items, assuming their accuracy. Calling users’ attention to these items can limit errors.
  • Apply universal symbols and colors. Consider how colors signal urgency, importance, or differentiability. For example, the color green and check mark symbols are typically used to indicate completeness or success. Alternatively, the color red and exclamation mark symbols are typically used to indicate alerts or calls to action.
  • Enable customized data presentation. Depending on the clinical context, healthcare providers might prefer an abbreviated or expanded view of relevant patient data. EMR systems should consider effective ways to utilize trend and summary tools to display information with an appropriate density.

This list is a starting point to developing a user-friendly EMR system. Different clinical environments call for different user needs and considerations to deliver safe and effective medical care.

Lisa Nguyen is Human Factors Specialist at Emergo by UL’s Human Factors Research & Design (HFR&D) unit.

Learn more about human factors engineering (HFE), usability and design issues for medical technologies:

  • Human factors design and prototype development support
  • HFE user research for medical devices, IVDs and combination products

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