Playing the EHR Memory Game

I try to avoid navel-gazing, which to me means commenting on someone else’s commentary – a practice all too commonly relied upon in the healthcare IT blogosphere. How many blogs, articles and rebuttals have been generated, after all, as a result of the Health Affairs/Mostashari back-and-forth in the past few days? Quite a few, and yours truly happily participated in the fringe commentary. So as you can see, sometimes a topic already covered by someone else just begs for a second opinion, which I’ll happily give if the context is right.

Yesterday I came across two pieces of online content that I couldn’t help but draw correlations between. The first, a blog written by Dr. Rick Weinhaus entitled “Humans Have Limited Working Memory,” tells the tale of our poor ability to retain information, made all too obvious by a common EHR design feature – the utilization of a row of clickable tabs at the top of a dashboard to designate the different categories of data that make up the patient visit.

Dr. Rick laments that since humans are capable of only retaining four to five unrelated elements in working memory, the row of one-click tabs, though logical, doesn’t work very well. In fact, it drives him “crazy.”

I certainly believe in our limited capacity for remembering unrelated things at any given time, and I’m sure other working parents will agree. Our capacity for keeping everything straight is finite – the more kids, colleagues, coworkers, patients, tabs, bells and whistles you add, the more likely you are to forget something, leave something behind, or, if you’re like me, leave your car door wide open in a parking lot while grocery shopping with two kids in tow. But I digress.

The second piece of content revolves around the results of a survey put out by CDW Healthcare on what clinicians find frustrating about implementing new health IT systems. Surprise, surprise, “too many passwords to memorize” came in at the top, emphasizing what Dr. Rick pointed out in his unrelated blog post.

So what’s a clinician to do? Especially those that work in multiple facilities on different EHRs? Are you like me, scribbling down usernames and passwords on a master paper document, which just screams “privacy breach waiting to happen?” How are vendors helping to address these issues – single sign-ons? Better, overall design? Whose doing it the right way when it comes to designing an EHR, or as Dr. Rick says, designing one “based on what humans are good at — using our visual system to make sense of the world?”

Please let me know in the comments below.

About the author

Jennifer Dennard

Jennifer Dennard

As Social Marketing Director at Billian, Jennifer Dennard is responsible for the continuing development and implementation of the company's social media strategies for Billian's HealthDATA and Porter Research. She is a regular contributor to a number of healthcare blogs and currently manages social marketing channels for the Health IT Leadership Summit and Technology Association of Georgia’s Health Society. You can find her on Twitter @JennDennard.

1 Comment

  • I have a personal fond affection for navels I guess;-) Although, maybe the real key is that I always have a second opinion.

    I’m still waiting to see Dr. Rick’s follow up post where he discusses better solutions. One challenge I think with this discussion is that people have a broad spectrum of memory capacity. Some are much better at remembering things than others and in different ways. My aunt for example is fantastic at remembering numbers. She can real off lists of phone numbers like nothing. I instead am good at remembering things visually. It’s like I have a whole stock pile of movies stored in my brain that I can replay.

    Now considering these differences, go and design something that’s usable for both. That’s hard.

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