Wednesday, March 09, 2005

UXCentricity: A Matter of Life and Death

In many arenas, UXCentricity—while essential—is not an absolute requirement. Although not ideal, many sites and applications can (and do) skate by with user-centered design that ranges from minimal to good.

That just ain't true for medical systems, where poor UXCentricity can result in injury or death. Today's New York Times reports on research that questions whether information technology is ready to transform healthcare. (Registration required; read it before it disappears into the maw of the pay archive.) I added italics for emphasis.
One paper, based on a lengthy study at a large teaching hospital, found 22 ways that a computer system for physicians could increase the risk of medication errors. Most of these problems, the authors said, were created by poorly designed software that too often ignored how doctors and nurses actually work in a hospital setting.

The likelihood of errors was increased, the paper stated, because information on patients' medications was scattered in different places in the computer system. To find a single patient's medications, the researchers found, a doctor might have to browse through up to 20 screens of information.

Among the potential causes of errors they listed were patient names' being grouped together confusingly in tiny print, drug dosages that seem arbitrary and computer crashes.

"These systems force people to wrap themselves around the technology like a pretzel instead of making sure the technology is responsive to the people doing the work," said Ross J. Koppel, the principal author of the medical journal's article on the weaknesses of computerized systems for ordering drugs and tests... "These computer systems hold great promise, but they also introduce a stunning number of faults."
Even proponents of increased IT in medicine admitted that the studies raised good points, while contending that newer systems were more "in tune with the work."

To me, this suggests that the first developers to produce UXCentric medical systems specifically designed around the ways doctors and nurses actually work could dominate the market—and save lives in the process.

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