With the aging of America, increasing prevalence of chronic disease and growing immigrant and minority populations in the U.S., there is the real potential for both unintentional traditional and digital health-care disparities. Health information technology (HIT) holds significant potential to provide tools, electronic health records (EHR) in particular, that enable the health-care system better respond to the health-care needs of American diversity and avoid disparities from occurring.
To ensure that EHRs can live up to that potential, NIST and Johns Hopkins are partnering on a research program aimed at developing human factors guidelines for preventing disparities related to EHR adoption. The objectives of the research are to ensure:
- Clinical personnel EHR use is not associated with unintended consequences that lead to the creation or exacerbation of health-care disparities
- EHR design and development workers have the needed resources and guidance to support the most usable and accessible EHR system development
NIST will employ the research findings to develop technical guidance that provides the basis for HIT design decisions (based on universal design principles) that will decrease or eliminate potential health-care disparities among end users. Implementing identified best practices and comprehensive technical guidelines will help support safe, effective, error-free EHR use among an increasingly diverse population of potential users.
Accessibility barriers to HIT devices for the one in five Americans with disabilities are a closely related area of concern that EHRs have the potential to address. By providing guidance for HIT design, NIST has an opportunity to achieve a nationwide impact that is truly welcoming to all people, regardless of ability. Even though Section 508 applies only to the federal sector, NIST believes it is important to promote the use of accessibility standards on a voluntary basis.
For that reason, NIST supports HIT standards for accessibility of electronic and information technology promulgated by the U.S. Access Board. It also is working to develop test methods to validate HIT accessibility conformance.
The positive impact of accessible HIT includes not only improved health, but also improvements in the employment and education of people with disabilities.