Welcome back, readers! Before we get started, I want to give credit where credit is due. This entry’s contents (including part of the title) were inspired by the following talented, insightful professionals:
Serry Wu, “Design is not Science, Art of Engineering“
Chris Kiess, “Healthcare Design Is About More Than Aesthetics“
And thanks to all of you who read my last entry and came back for more, I will endeavor to keep you coming back again and again!
Science and healthcare professionals, for the most part, do not concern themselves with design, let alone aesthetics. These are often seen as frilly, unnecessary and superficial by those of us in life sciences. Information, accuracy and technique are the pillars of the healthcare industry. In today’s world, this means interacting with technology and a wide array of software and their interfaces.
Today I want to discuss why poor design in healthcare technology is a huge, largely ignored, problem. The exponential rate at which technology is advancing presents an opportunity for science and design to become inextricably linked in healthcare, as poor design can sometimes spell the difference between life and death.
We are no longer in the age of clipboards full of indecipherable scribbles hanging at the edge of every hospital bed. These days, physicians and nurses are more likely to be seen employing tablets, typing details of their patients history into one software, ordering their labs on another and figuring out insurance information on yet another. Most hospital admissions processes easily have users interacting with six or more different systems. Users being able to use and understand all of these interfaces does not only improve efficiency in hospitals, a place where time is a scarce and valuable resource, it directly impacts quality of care.
You’re a physician (and your parents are so, SO proud). You have a number of patients all with different ailments, prescriptions and allergies. Some are life-threatening, some are not. You have been in the hospital, running from one wing to the other for close to 28 hours. Your feet are screaming. Your brain is now housing, not just an encyclopedia of medical knowledge (that is constantly being updated), but 7 different passwords for all of your work software accounts. Your pager goes off. You need to check on your patient in bed 9. Bed 9. Bed 9? Let’s pull up that chart on Epic.
No, your eyes are not playing tricks on you. This is what the interface looks like for the world’s best known electronic healthcare record system, Epic. A crowded screen overflowing with information, entirely lacking in the user friendliness department and with next to no scannability. These design problems add up to increased error rates, and in a hospital setting uncaught errors mean patients being hurt… or killed.
What can be done besides taking design more seriously or increasing UX spending in hospitals and software providers’ companies? How do we improve, not just patient outcomes, but the patients’ own “user experience”? The simple answer is centralization and technology.
Centralization of Patient Records
It is mind-boggling that we have not yet sufficiently used technology to make the lives of healthcare providers easier. Physicians and nurses work long hours, undergoing high levels of stress and dealing with multiple, poorly designed software packages which, as we’ve covered, is a perfect recipe for inducing errors.
How do we make their lives easier? First, fully digitize and centralize patient data in a well-designed, neat little package. Second, unleash the power of that data to aid in decision-making, customization of care and data quality/security auditing using AI. This is not a revolutionary idea, why is it taking us so long to get there? The short answer is neither the infrastructure/tech nor the legislation is in place to speed up this process. This FiveThirtyEight article provides some answers.
The absolute least these electronic health and medical record management companies can do (while we anxiously wait for IBM Watson to join the party) is spend some time truly considering the design of their software. The added risk incurred by patients is their responsibility as much as it is the providers’. These companies are pioneering the field and lucky for them, their consumers are more concerned with saving people’s lives and cutting costs than anything else, for now.
To the Epics of the world:
You may not need to compete on quality, usability and design yet but the tide will inevitably turn. Companies become obsolete dinosaurs by ignoring their future competition and not anticipating solutions to problems that haven’t arrived yet.
You wouldn’t want to suffer that fate, would you?
Image adapted from the wonderful book All My Friends Are Dead.