The True Measure Of Success For HIT Systems

My newest post in healthsystemcio.com.  Feedback appreciated.

The title of the book on the lap of the person sitting next to me was “Cost Justifying Usability”. My cynicism jumped immediately to Def-Con 4.

Cost Justifying Usability. Did the author get his inspiration for the title at the Shopping-For-New-Ideas store? Now, before you laugh too hard, recall that many inane ideas make gobs of money, such as thePet Rock and Chia Pet. For every book, there must be an audience. I can only believe that the intended audience for this epic must be senior business executives.

Imagine yourself being one of those executives. Someone finds you lying on the floor in the fetal position and suggests you read the book. How should you respond?

  • I assumed usability was the antecedent  for buying that system
  • We just spent $300 million dollars on an enterprise system. Does making it usable cost extra?
  • They told us the drop-dead date is March 21. Drop-dead is the perfect phrase; we only measured cost and speed — nobody thought to measure usability?

What is the title of the antithetical book—Cost Justifying Unusability or, Cost Justifying Failure?

The statement most in HIT are afraid to utter is that most HIT spend has no ROI. There is no ROI because the usability measure of most of the largest HIT systems (enterprise and EHR) is negative — productivity is showing a net loss instead of a net gain.

Usability is not the same as user acceptance. User acceptance for these unusable systems will approach 100 percent. Why? Because users have no other option. And then there is Meaningful Use — an odd phrase because it has nothing to do with users. An EHR can pass Meaningful Use and have low user acceptance and the usability factor of hammering a nail with a banana.

If the healthcare industry needs to be convinced that a cost justification for usability is required before anyone takes the issue seriously, perhaps a moniker change is in order — HIT to OBIT.

Call me silly, but I think the time has come to do away with how we measure the success of all business systems projects. Was the system usable — did it increase ROI, did it make the organization more effective, and did it enable innovation? Only two approaches to measure need be used.

  1. On time, on budget, high user acceptance, unusable:             failure
  2. Not on time, not within budget, usable:                                        success

No matter what else happens, if the best your business system project does is to give you back performance similar to what you had without the system, a reasoned executive would say the investment in the system was wasted. It then stands to reason that if the new system delivered worse performance than what you had previously, it too is a wasted investment.

When I talk with some seasoned executives in HIT about the success or failure of their EHR system, I pause for a second waiting for someone to say, “Pay no attention to the small man behind the curtain.” Their standard of measure? See above, Approach 1. Some would have you believe it is heretical to say that spending a hundred million dollars on a system whose usability is poor was a waste of money. Most of those who defend the spend are those who did the spending.

Ask the users if they think the money was well spent. These three quotes came from a physician whose hospital spent $400 million on a name-brand EHR.

  1. “Their (the hospital’s) most expensive resource spends a lot of time doing data entry.”
  2. “The data is very good if you are a patient or an insurance company that wants to sue us.”
  3. “My productivity is still down thirty percent.”

Imagine yourself as a hospital executive and answer the following question. Which of these two pieces of information is more valuable: knowing your EHR passed Meaningful Use or, learning from your users that the EHR is unusable? In HIT, there are two rules:

  1. The usability measure of most EHRs is unacceptable.
  2. Paying more for your EHR than the next guy or gal does not change Rule 1.
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