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Design and Implementation of a Hospital-Based Usability Laboratory: Insights from a Department of Veterans Affairs Laboratory for Health Information Technology

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Background: Although the potential benefits of more usable health information technologies (HIT) are substantial—reduced HIT support costs, increased work efficiency, and improved patient safety—human factors methods to improve usability are rarely employed. The US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has emerged as an early leader in establishing usability laboratories to inform the design of HIT, including its electronic health record. Experience with a usability laboratory at a VA Medical Center provides insights on how to design, implement, and leverage usability laboratories in the health care setting.

Implementation: The VA Health Services Research and Development Service Human-Computer Interaction & Simulation Laboratory emerged as one of the first VA usability laboratories and was intended to provide research-based findings about HIT designs. This laboratory supports rapid prototyping, formal usability testing, and analysis tools to assess existing technologies, alternative designs, and potential future technologies.

Results of Implementation: Although the laboratory has maintained a research focus, it has become increasingly integrated with VA operations, both within the medical center and on a national VA level. With this resource, data-driven recommendations have been provided for the design of HIT applications before and after implementation.

Conclusion: The demand for usability testing of HIT is increasing, and information on how to develop usability laboratories for the health care setting is often needed. This article may assist other health care organizations that want to invest in usability resources to improve HIT. The establishment and utilization of usability laboratories in the health care setting may improve HIT designs and promote safe, high-quality care for patients.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2012

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  • Published monthly, The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety is a peer-reviewed publication dedicated to providing health professionals with the information they need to promote the quality and safety of health care. The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety invites original manuscripts on the development, adaptation, and/or implementation of innovative thinking, strategies, and practices in improving quality and safety in health care. Case studies, program or project reports, reports of new methodologies or new applications of methodologies, research studies on the effectiveness of improvement interventions, and commentaries on issues and practices are all considered.

    David W. Baker, MD, MPH, FACP, executive vice president for the Division of Healthcare Quality Evaluation at The Joint Commission, is the inaugural editor-in-chief of The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety.

    Also known as Joint Commission Journal on Quality Improvement and Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Safety
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