Selecting a Provider-Centric Software Partner
In a January 31, 2013 article in PhysBizTech, Melissa Thompson predicted design and user-friendliness were going to be key differentiators for consumer healthcare applications this year. Now, more than ever, we as consumers are empowered by technology to engage the healthcare industry and take control of our health and our healthcare data. However, a question remains: Shouldn’t we also be concerned with the intuitive design and user experience of healthcare applications for the clinical side?
Unfortunately, up to this point, clinician-facing applications have not been a priority when addressing design and user experience. With government incentives such as Meaningful Use and broader industry demand for electronic-based medical records, software companies have reacted by focusing on deployment when the more appropriate focus would be on clinicians and how technology could/should best serve them.
In my work, I have interviewed physicians who are stuck with complex, expensive and unreliable technology that have been recently purchased. These applications force the user to employ extensive work-a-rounds to match their process workflows. So instead of technology seamlessly integrating into their work and making it faster and easier, it requires more time from an already busy clinician. The priority should be to roll out technology that specifically addresses established clinician workflow processes, customization of content and reducing clicks, taps and swipes to enable providers quick and intuitive access to information when and where they need it.
The clinician experience with consumer-facing applications may drive this needed change. Like the rest of us, physicians and nurses frequently use software applications in their personal lives. They experience firsthand how intuitive consumer-focused applications can be. Clinicians question why their healthcare solutions can’t be as simple and intuitive as booking travel, managing finances and streaming movies on their personal tablets and smartphones.
As the clinician-facing application experience continues to evolve, user experience design must gain momentum in healthcare technology. Hospitals and practices must require software companies to better understand and develop applications based on the clinician experience and feedback.
Healthcare systems and physician practices looking to invest in new software applications should ensure that potential software partners are aware of and appreciate the value of a provider-centric approach. The following are some focused recommendations to ensure the software application(s) you are considering are rooted in the clinician-focused user experience:
- Move beyond the sales team. When considering new software applications, hospitals and practices must be sure they get accurate answers from potential software partners about how much they value and respond to user experience. Try to push past the sales person and talk with people in the company directly responsible for solution development. Asking pointed questions about if/how clinicians are involved in the design can help you get a sense of how much a software partner values the user experience.
- Request a shadow. How can a solution fit seamlessly into the clinician workflow process and enhance productivity and outcomes if your software partner doesn’t fully understand it? Ask potential partners to come on-site and shadow your providers to discover where there are needs and opportunities for the customization of the software and see firsthand possible barriers that need to be addressed.
- Think outside traditional software. With all the different kinds of technology available to developers, you should make sure your software partner is open and amenable to using innovative approaches, such as mobile technology or web-based applications. For example, perhaps a tablet application is appropriate for specific uses of an electronic health record, but maybe it also needs to seamlessly interface with a web-based solution offering access to more detailed data, such as images or patient education information.
- Avoid one-size-fits-all. If you’re a specialty practice, such as pediatrics or orthopedics, make sure the software partner appreciates the nuances of the specialty and doesn’t try to apply a one-size-fits-all approach. Inquire into whether they have experience with your specialty. Is it possible for you to see their software offering in action at another practice? Ask the practice about how well it meets their needs. This research can help you uncover whether a software partner fully appreciates the unique needs of your specialty.
- Show me, don’t just tell me. It’s one thing to state that a software tool mirrors workflow; it’s another thing to show exactly how it does. To determine whether a potential solution will truly work with your current workflow processes, ask your software partner to demonstrate it, possibly simulating a process specific to your practice. This exercise will establish better first-hand knowledge and concrete expectations of how clinicians would interact with the application solution in your daily work.
In summary, clinician-facing healthcare application solutions can impact people’s lives in a real and significant way. Creating clinician-facing application solutions without direct input from the clinicians themselves is problematic; negatively affecting the safety and quality of care your practice delivers. Healthcare applications must embrace the concept of end-user involvement in the design. This will help ensure that your software solutions effectively meet your practice needs.
Erica W. Newcomb, MS-HCI CSM is the Director of User Experience at PointClear Solutions.
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