Improving User Experience Could Hasten Adoption of Online Digital Health Records

Online digital heath records—the kind controlled by patients—have been available for years, but the trick is to get people to use them in the first place, reports the New York Times. And aside from concerns about privacy—a significant obstacle, to be sure—the two biggest hurdles in the way of more universal adoption of digital health records are user experience related: getting the information in there is too difficult, and the information in there might not be complete.

Overcoming both user experience obstacles could go a long way towards helping the Obama administration accelerate the adoption of electronic health records in doctors’ offices and hospitals throughout the United States. The Obama administration plans to spend $19 billion over the next few years as part of the economic stimulus package to hasten this modernization of the nation’s health care system. Currently, the federal government has no plans for consumer-controlled health records, but doctors tout consumer-controlled health records as a powerful tool for improving health care because the data itself is not tethered to an institution.

Still, in many instances, it’s up to the patients themselves to provide the information, often through time-consuming data entry methods. Aside from turning away patients who would otherwise benefit from online digital health records, even patients motivated to enter data on their own risk filling their digital health records with errors. Work-arounds do exists, however. Patients using Google Health, for example, can upload records directly from several health insurers, including Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, and prescription records from major drug store chains like CVS and Walgreens. Microsoft and Google, reports the New York Times, have announced partnerships with Cleveland Clinic, Mayo Clinic, and Kaiser Permanente to explore transferring patient data automatically into digital health records controlled by the consumer.

Also in question is the quality of the information itself. With paper-based records, and no de facto standards in place, standards, over time, have evolved separately based upon the needs of each individual health care provider—patient portability was never an over-riding consideration. What may have been recorded and documented at one institution, for example, might not have been recorded or documented by another, leading to gaps or inconsistencies in a patient’s medical records, especially records for older patients. “The paper-based system is soft of ‘here, and good luck,’” said Dr. Mehmet Oz, a heart surgeon at New York Presbyterian Hospital, as quoted by the New York Times.

The ideal, according to Dr. David Brailer, former national health information technology coordinator in the Bush administration, as quoted in the Times, is for most patient to be in digital form, with safeguards for privacy, to be shared by health providers and patients.


Robert Pothier is the Research Director for Makibie (, an interactive services firm that helps companies use technology to connect with customers and achieve ebusiness goals. He is also Editor in Chief of, where you can get the latest on user experience, design, interactive applications, green technology, and more. Robert earned a BS from the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD, and an MA from Northeastern University in Boston, MA.

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