UX MATTERS FOR SAFETY,

NOT JUST SATISFACTION

Healthcare Technology
Blog
Tue Dec 20, 2016

ux-mattersA key component of the development of any new technology – healthcare or otherwise – is usability testing. The user experience, or UX, is an important aspect of the success of any product or platform, for if something is cumbersome to use, doesn’t do what it promises to do, or somehow makes the user’s job more difficult, it’s not going to be well-received.

UX, however, is about much more than user satisfaction with an enterprise solution or web or mobile app. While it’s certainly important for users to be happy with how the software functions, it’s even more important that the UX is conducive to safety and proper use of the technology. Nowhere is this more important than in the development of medical devices and technology. Simply put, if software designers and developers do not consider UX with an eye toward safety, as well as the satisfaction of the user, it could have a negative effect on patient outcomes — or even endanger patient lives.

Designing Technology for How People Use IT

Earlier this year, clinical informatics expert Nancy Staggers spoke at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society conference, where she noted that the user experience of common EHRs is “severe” for nurses in particular. She said that many EHR / EMR systems are not effectively designed for the way that clinicians think and work, and that it’s important to recognize nurse’s unique needs in terms of user experience. Otherwise, she said, there is an increased risk of not only inefficiencies and delays in care delivery, but also errors and other significant patient safety risks.

Some of the more specific factors that impact safety in terms of EHR / EMRs include:

Problems With the EHR Technology

When EHR technology isn’t user friendly, it can lead to frustration and errors. For example, when nurses struggle to enter information, they may leave important fields blank (either accidentally or intentionally) and enter information in the wrong fields. This creates the potential for errors or delays in care while more information is gathered or corrected.

Inappropriate EHR Integration

Not all EHRs are created for the same settings. A program that works well in one setting may be too difficult to use in another, or may not capture all of the necessary information. Medical software must be tested in the actual environment in which it will be used, to ensure a seamless user experience.

The bottom line, as Stagger pointed out, is that healthcare UX must be taken into account from all aspects, not just whether providers are able to use the technology and are satisfied with it. UX must be considered from a patient safety perspective as well, and whether or not features and how it is used could actually create risk.

healthcare-uxMedical Device UX

Healthcare user experience and patient safety isn’t limited to electronic medical records and technology used by providers. Medical devices also need to be evaluated for user experience with an eye toward safety.

Often, medical device recalls or failures are not due to a manufacturer or mechanical error or anything to do with the device itself, but, rather, human error. For this reason, human factor testing is a key part of all medical device development.


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Essentially, human factor testing is designed to ensure that anyone using a medical device can do so without making mistakes that render the device unsafe — including both providers and patients. Not only should both providers and users be able to understand and follow the device instructions, but technology designers and developers need to consider who will be using the device and the unique characteristics that could affect their experience.

For example, can someone who lacks physical strength and stamina or who has eyesight issues use the device? Are there features to the device that could create confusion among users, especially those with limited cognitive function or other neurological conditions? Are there aspects of the device that are simply confusing to any user?

For example, in one notable case, during the development of a medication management app, users were confused by the presence of a placeholder number in the current dosage field. Because the field was set to zero by default, some patients assumed that they were to stop taking their medication, or they made errors in the data entry due to the placeholder digit. By removing that placeholder, accuracy increased and the user experience improved. While it may seem like a small thing, those seemingly small details can negatively affect the safety of a device and put users at risk.

The bottom line is that whether a patient or a provider, UX in healthcare is about more than just whether someone “likes” the technology or not. UX must be examined in terms of how it affects patient safety, and whether there are features or instructions that need to be refined to ensure proper usage. When this happens, the technology is more likely to be adopted and serve its intended purpose.

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