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Int J Med Inform. 2013 Feb;82(2):128-38. doi: 10.1016/j.ijmedinf.2012.05.018. Epub 2012 Jun 29.

Detection and characterization of usability problems in structured data entry interfaces in dentistry.

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The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, USA.



Poor usability is one of the major barriers for optimally using electronic health records (EHRs). Dentists are increasingly adopting EHRs, and are using structured data entry interfaces to enter data such that the data can be easily retrieved and exchanged. Until recently, dentists have lacked a standardized terminology to consistently represent oral health diagnoses.


In this study we evaluated the usability of a widely used EHR interface that allow the entry of diagnostic terms, using multi-faceted methods to identify problems and work with the vendor to correct them using an iterative design method.


Fieldwork was undertaken at two clinical sites, and dental providers as subjects participated in user testing (n=32), interviews (n=36) and observations (n=24).


User testing revealed that only 22-41% of users were able to successfully complete a simple task of entering one diagnosis, while no user was able to complete a more complex task. We identified and characterized 24 high-level usability problems reducing efficiency and causing user errors. Interface-related problems included unexpected approaches for displaying diagnosis, lack of visibility, and inconsistent use of UI widgets. Terminology related issues included missing and mis-categorized concepts. Work domain issues involved both absent and superfluous functions. In collaboration with the vendor, each usability problem was prioritized and a timeline set to resolve the concerns.


Mixed methods evaluations identified a number of critical usability issues relating to the user interface, underlying terminology of the work domain. The usability challenges were found to prevent most users from successfully completing the tasks. Our further work we will determine if changes to the interface, terminology and work domain do result in improved usability.

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