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J Biomed Inform. 2003 Feb-Apr;36(1-2):45-60.

Usability in the real world: assessing medical information technologies in patients' homes.

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Department of Biomedical Informatics, Columbia University, 622 West 168th Street, New York, NY, USA.



This paper presents an approach to usability evaluation of computer-based health care systems designed for patient use in their homes. Although such devices are becoming more prevalent, there is very little known about their usability.


The theoretical foundations for the methods are discussed. The approach incorporates a cognitive walkthrough usability evaluation and new methods for usability testing that can be conducted in patient's homes. The method was applied to the IDEATel intervention, a multi-institution randomized controlled trial of the feasibility, acceptability, and clinical utility of a home-based telemedicine system for diabetic Medicare population. The usability study was designed to assess barriers to optimal use of the system. The focus was both on dimensions of the interface and on dimensions of patient skills and competency. The usability field research involved testing 25 patients in their homes using the system. The analysis included a range of video-analytic methods of varying levels of granularity.


The usability evaluation revealed aspects of the interface that were sub-optimal and impeded the performance of certain tasks. It also found a range of patient-related factors such as numeracy and psychomotor skills that constituted barriers to productive use.


A multifaceted usability approach provided important insight regarding use of technology by an elderly chronic-care patient population and more generally, for understanding how home health initiatives can more effectively use such technology.

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