Topic Brief: Usability

This topic brief provides definition of usability and reasons why it matters that healthcare organizations understand the impact usability has on the delivery of care. 

What is Usability?

Usability: (ISO)  The effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction with which users achieve goals in a particular environment”.  In healthcare, the “particular environment” referred to in the definition can refer to a:

•    care setting
•    medical device
•    piece of software
•    workflow or affiliated process


ISO Standard 9241: This standard provides requirements and recommendations for human-centred design principles and activities throughout the life cycle of computer-based interactive systems. It is intended to be used by those managing design processes, and is concerned with ways in which both hardware and software components of interactive systems can enhance human–system interaction.

What is Effectiveness?

Effectiveness is the accuracy and completeness with which users can achieve goals in a particular environment.  In healthcare, this can refer to examples such as a:

•    Clinician’s effectiveness utilizing an EHR
•    Diabetes patient’s effectiveness when using a blood glucose reader
•    Medical coder’s effectiveness when interacting with a billing software screen interface.  

Any human/computer interaction that takes place related to health or medicine represents an opportunity for positive or negative usability experiences for the user as it relates to effectiveness.

What is Efficiency?

Efficiency is the resources expended in relation to the accuracy and completeness of goal achieved.  In healthcare, this can refer to examples such as: 

•    The cognitive load required by a Nurse Manager to navigate through a CPOE
•    A new mother’s effort getting through  hospital hallways to get to the NICU to visit her newborn
•    A caregiver’s cognitive workload navigating a patient portal to schedule an appointment for their loved one.   

Any interaction, workflow, or process that takes place in the delivery and consumption of healthcare has efficiency variances that either positively or negatively affect an end user’s experience as it relates to efficiency.

•    A patient’s satisfaction with the documentation they receive detailing their care.  

Any interaction, with fellow humans as well as machines & computers, creates an opportunity to affect an end-user’s experience as it relates to satisfaction.

What is Satisfaction?

Satisfaction is the comfort and acceptability of the work system to its users and other people affected by its use.  In healthcare, this can refer to examples such as: 

•    A health system CIO’s satisfaction with the system’s business intelligence/analytics software
•    A person in a wheelchair’s satisfaction with a facility’s ADA-compliant doors 

Why Usability Matters?

Usability matters because if a user cannot achieve their goals efficiently, effectively and in a satisfactory matter, they are likely to seek an alternative solution to reach their goals. (Interaction Design Foundation).  In healthcare this could look like:

•    Nurses writing down vital signs on paper instead of entering them directly into the EHR
•    Patients skipping prescribed protocol due to patient education materials with low usability
•    Administrators creating their own analytics dashboards in Excel rather than through their Business Intelligence software 

For A Deep Dive on Usability
Visit HIMSS’ User Experience Resource Library 


An Introduction to Usability (Interaction Design Foundation): This blog post provides detailed examples of effeciency, effectiveness and satisfaction as it relates to usability.