November 22, 2013

World Usability Day is an annual event that is meant to share and promote the thinking, the processes, and the outcomes that result from usability and user-centered design. The theme for 2013 was Healthcare. I was fortunate to work with the Colorado chapter of HIMSS on this year’s event. We had a great lineup of speakers, and here’s what we learned.

Our intent for this year’s event was to put together a lineup of practitioners whose roles uniquely highlight the diverse areas within healthcare where experience design plays a critical role.

Some of My Favorite Takeaways

User Research Can Yield More than Only Design Recommendations

I had the pleasure of working with Teresa McCasky, Sr. Clinical Product Owner at INRange on their recent product redesign. Our case study focused on how user research benefited everything from INRange’s internal processes to both the industrial and interaction design. INRange is in the process of redesigning their flagship product – a medical device which distributes medications to patients in their own homes. The intent is to help patients be more self-sufficient with their medications. We focused on how INRange’s project went beyond just usability testing by conducting user research with participants in their homes. Observing participants in their real-world context uncovered a wealth of insight and information. While the insights gained from working with real customers were significant and highly impactful on the product itself, observing participants interact with their product prototype and sharing this with the product team brought an unexpected result – it helped their team collaborate better. Watching the videos of participants using the prototype cleared the way for better conversations between stakeholders, developers, and designers.

The Way We Think impacts Our Emotion and Behavior

Michael Siepmann, Ph.D. reminds us that cognition, emotion, and behavior are interrelated and that each is an important aspect to consider. Good usability allows for less thinking and more doing. That is, if a product is easy to use it allows us to focus on the work we’re doing rather than having to spend time learning how to use the product. When humans are required to focus on the tool rather than the task we tend to over-think. This can lead to feeling agitated and can ultimately result in unintended behaviors. In the field of healthcare where we can be dealing with life-or-death situation, poor usability can have negative and catastrophic consequences by forcing us to focus on the tool rather than the task.

Simple Changes to Electronic Health Records Can Increase Readability and Save Time

Dr. CT Lin, Chief Medical Information Officer at the University of Colorado Health, explained how simple changes to a common form used by physicians can increase efficiency and improve readability. Physicians, as Dr. Lin describes, have long used a single format when compiling patient notes. SOAP notes are designed to catalog information: Subjective (the stated reason for the visit); Objective (measured data, e.g. vital signs); Assessment (a medical diagnosis) and a Plan (treatment for the medical diagnosis). Dr. Lin suggests to increase efficiency and readability we should consider the “APSO” format. The APSO format puts the most important information, the Assessment and the Plan, first while leaving the Subjective and Objective information for the end of the note. The suggested format change allows the physician to first see the most critical information – a patient’s diagnosis and treatment. We especially enjoyed Dr. Lin’s presentation because he highlights a critical aspect of usability – even simple design changes can have far-reaching and posittive impacts on usability.

Even Non UX Practitioners Can Participate in the User-Centered Approach to Product Development

Dan Tucker, Product Manager at iTriage, shared his approach as a product manager who believes users are integral to building a quality product. Dan shared that he isn’t a UX professional necessarily, but that taking a user-centered approach to their product has clarified their own goals and helped them to build a better product more quickly. iTriage starts with the basics, sketches on whiteboards and then very quickly building prototypes which can be tested, first internally, and then with family and friends. Dan talked about expanding the reach to current customers and then to “strangers” or those who aren’t familiar with iTriage because, “They aren’t trying to be nice, they’ll be brutally honest.” Building a solution without incorporating user feedback is a recipe for failure. Getting users hands-on early during the product development process helps to eliminate guesswork and to release products with greater confidence that users will have a better experience.

Design Best Practices Aren’t Enough – We Need Users to Help Test Our Designs

Angie Olivero. Director of UX at Healthgrades, showed us that even updated, “clean” designs can still be confusing to users. Angie shared the example of a two-step process that, at first glance, couldn’t seem more simple. A form on their website had a giant “1” and “2” to guide users. Angie showed a screen capture of a usability test where users were attempting to complete the form. Their feedback was telling. It was discovered that users were perceiving not a two-step process but an either-or process where the flow is “1” OR “2” not “1” AND “2”. The form was visually appealing and, again, at first glance appeared very straight forward and intuitive for users. The lesson? Aasthetics are important to create trust and confidence from users but we still need to ensure critical tasks are tested with our customers. After all, we are not the user.

Disconnected Contexts in a Connected Experience Can Leave Users Feeling Lost

Kim Dunwoody, Director of UX at Truven Health, shared her experience as a patient receiving confusing and, at times, conflicting care instructions between various healthcare contexts. Kim illustrated her experience by creating a journey map which showed the disconnect between her initial, pre-op, post op, and follow-up visits. Four distinct contexts for Kim that felt like they should be somehow more connected. Instead, as Kim illustrated, there were multiple contexts and many different patient-facing healthcare professionals that didn’t feel connected at all. She received conflicting care instructions and some very important information was not shared between the various service providers. As Kim learned, the lack of cohesiveness across contexts caused both her and her physician considerable frustration. The frustration felt on both sides of the experience seems like it could be a real catalyst for change where patients and physicians can work together to be intentional around designing better experiences.

Increasing a Surgical Device’s Usability Keeps Decisions and Learnability Simple in the O.R.

Diana Gunnarson, Sr. Principal Human Factors Engineer at Covidien, detailed the user-centered process behind Covidien’s design of their new surgical device, Sonicision. Her team didn’t just ask physicians about their preferences, they went into the O.R. to learn about current behaviors and preferences for surgeons in the O.R. Covidien’s intent was to increase the usability of their device by focusing on ease-of-assembly, intuitive use with minimal instruction, clear and understandable indicators, and portability. Diana showed the old device – a 4 foot tall device that plugged into the wall. What could be worse than a trip hazard in the O.R.? Definitely not very usable. By focusing on several elements of usability, from the physical ergonomics to meticulously creating clear and understandable indicators, the team was able to build a device which is simple to use, easy to learn, and battery powered (i.e. no wires). Maybe our favorite takeaway from Diana’s talk was seeing how usability of the device is the main feature in the marketing for Sonicision. Turns out usability is a selling point.

Posted In Conferences, Customer Experience, User Experience.