Color Blindness and the EMR – An Overlooked Obstacle to Practice.

Between 1 in 10 and 1 in 12 men (red/green) and 1 in 200 women experience color blindness, also becoming known as color deficiency. As a former nurse, I learned about color blindness and even tested some children for the disorder when I worked at a school and did eye exams. I learned some facts like it is an x-linked recessively inherited trait, which basically means it is passed on through a mother’s genes, and not all that common. Never experiencing a problem with color, I never gave it much thought as to how color blindness could affect one’s life.

I would learn a little more when I married a man with color blindness. Still, having red-green colorblindness never affected his life all that much in the thirty-five years I have known him.  Occasionally, he would ask if a dress shirt and tie matched or if his socks matched his pants. I am sure there are men who are not colorblind that ask their wives these same questions.  When we were younger, and traveling late at night, he would ask me if a street light was red or green. When he stopped asking me this. I asked why and how he could tell whether he should stop or go.  His reply most likely told me what most people do when they are color blind: they compensate! He could tell whether or not to proceed driving by seeing which light, in which order, was illuminated. Since traffic signal lights are always shown in the same order, he could tell by the vibrancy or illumination (not the color) whether he was to proceed or stop. Of course, while driving there are other clues as well – such as what other drivers are doing if you are in a stream of traffic. I suppose it is why I only got the question when there were no other cars on the road, late at night!

I never considered my husband’s color blindness to be a problem. Nor did he, until recently.  After close to thirty years in a hospital based occupation, he has changed jobs. Still related to patient care, his new place of employment uses a different electronic medical record (EMR), one that is filled with red and green indicators. This is a problem! Fortunately, it is something this organization is paying attention to through his stated concerns. Charting or documenting becomes difficult when one cannot depend on the color indicator signaling whether or the patient is exhibiting the symptom. Fortunately, there seems to be ways around this visual impediment such as counting number of clicks, and free texting in a drop down menu on the patient’s record. Who could have guessed that after thirty years of practice and documentation, color blindness could present an obstacle to overcome?!

Recently, there have been some advancements in helping those with color blindness.  One such advancement is the new color blind glasses sold by Enchroma.  My husband’s new employer has ordered him a pair of these to help him see the color coding on the digital record or EMR. They take 4-6 weeks to be delivered and are not inexpensive. Additionally, the IT department has ordered him a new computer that has settings adjusted for a colorblind individual. This is supposed to arrive tomorrow.  And, lastly, he is working at finding other ways to document the patient record that includes dictation, a skill with which he has vast experience and a high comfort level.  It will only be the Dragon software that will present a learning curve with the dictation.

This whole experience has set off some valid concerns. One joint concern is about the companies making the EMR programs and the institutions buying the programs. At my husband’s last place of employment, he mentioned his problem with the color coding on the EMR to the administration. Aware of the problem, still nothing was done. In essence he was told, it is not significant enough of a problem! Hmmmmm? Are they not aware there is a shortage of healthcare workers in the U.S.? And, I question how they would like to be told if they went to the doctor about something that was bothering their functioning and were told, the problem is not significant enough! Anyway, I am grateful his new employer is taking the color blindness seriously and is helping him to find ways to assist him seeing all the colors or finding alternatives so he can do his job!

Color blindness! Who knew?!

If you’d like to test yourself for color blindness, there are websites that can help you do so. One is located at: http://enchroma.com/test/instructions/ .  If you’d like to find out more about color blindness, the various types, and causes, you can visit the National Eye Institute. 

Here’s to all the color in your world!

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