Using Human Factors in Designing Forms for Paper or Electronic Documentation

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Throughout this article, when reference is made to a form this will encompass whether it is a paper form or an electronic form, such as a screen in an electronic medical record system. Human factors focus on designing for human psychological, social, physical, and biological characteristics. Understanding who will be using the documentation tool, whether electronic or paper will enhance its function and understandability by the end-user. The definition of a form is the basic business tool whether printed or electronic for collecting and transmitting information. A form is the catalyst for getting things done, and the record of what was done. Utilizing human factors in forms design is critical to improving the success of the desired outcomes. Spending time and resources on usability testing improves the resulting documentation or use of the system. This will ultimately return improved data capture and reduces errors. At every step of the design process the designer must consider the end-user. For instance, if the end-user is an elderly patient with the possibility of having a disability, consideration must be made in the font size, typography, use of color, and use of plain language. If electronic and information technology is being delivered, following Section 508 standards should be considered. The requirement of this standard, at this time, is for federal agencies; however, it would be wise to consider these standards in all electronic systems for future needs and preparation of any necessary revisions. Plain language, appropriate typography, good layout and screen design may be very necessary for a form to succeed, but these characteristics alone are not sufficient to guarantee that it will work. Human factors and usability testing must be performed to know for sure if the desired results are being achieved. Just as in designing devices, designing forms to be used appropriately and efficiently, the design for the interaction between the user and the form must acknowledge the users’ capabilities, stress levels, work environment, and training needs. Forms must be designed to encourage cooperative responses and lead the form-filler through the form. If designed properly, forms should not cause confusion or inaccurate data gathering. The purpose of a good form is to collect or provide accurate information. If the form doesn’t do that, then it isn’t a good form. It isn’t fulfilling its purpose. Usability testing of forms will enhance the structure and design of the questions and layout of the form. Testing with end-users who are not familiar with the form will help to identify where confusion may be and where changes are needed to reduce errors and increase productivity. Not only is the productivity increased by the end-user, but also increased by the staff who is receiving the data captured on the form, which can be in multiple departments within an organization. Management spends a great deal of time making decisions based on the data it receives and much of this comes from forms. Management time is costly and forms should be designed to reduce labor content as much as possible. Yet forms cost far more than most people realize. Managers frequently see only the printing cost, or in the case of electronic forms, the design cost. Forms design is a critical aspect to optimal data capture. It is particularly interesting to me that when performing an analysis of the task, when designing a medical device, electronic medical record system, tool, or screen display on a medical device, the data from this analysis study is generally captured on a form. The use of a form is so vital to every business aspect and to optimal data capture which enables one to make decisions and to move processes through the workflow. I am surprised at how often people assume because they have a computer and a printer they are now a forms design professional and can design a form. Form analysis and designing requires a forms professional knowledgeable, not only in rules of design analysis for appropriate data capture and transmission, but must be knowledgeable in utilizing human factors and process analysis. This is a crucial area in reducing errors and increasing understandability. Whether the end-user is clinical, non-clinical, staff, the patient or family, this does not change the need for proper forms design. Forms affect everyone and play a very important role in every business process within an organization.

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