A good friend of mine works for a large academic medical center that has restrictive IT policies. Fiercely loyal to certain vendors, the IT gatekeepers restrict hardware choices, from server infrastructure to smart phones. Apple products are largely banned, and the popularity of the iPhone has led many employees to carry multiple handheld devices. Corporate e-mail can only be received on personal phones if the employee knows the “right” people in IT who are willing to bend the rules to make the customer’s life easier.
Although I appreciate that it’s important to discourage employees from playing Angry Birds or from Facebooking on company time, they’ve taken control to extremes. His hospital IT department seems to be missing the point that their prime role is to support staff in the safe and efficient care of patients. Making it more difficult for clinicians to do their jobs isn’t in harmony with that mission, not to mention the cost of the hospital paying for owned handhelds and then reimbursing staff for personal devices.
When I saw a recent article called Doctors Driving IT Development with their Mobile Device Choices, I immediately thought of him. I instant messaged the link to him on both his hospital device and his iPhone to see which one was read first. Of course, it was the iPhone. Surveys estimate that over 80% of physicians are using smart phones, up 11% from 2010. The article states, “Instead of hospitals and vendors telling physicians to adapt to their preferred ways of using technology, physicians are gaining the power to sway hospitals and vendors to their preferred way of using it.”
Albany Medical Center is cited as allowing physician-owned devices on their network to meet physician demand. Administrators created a project to allow physicians to test drive an iPhone, iPad, and BlackBerry over a three-month period. The Apple products were clear leaders. I’ve personally used all three, and each has its strengths and weaknesses depending on the demands placed on them by users.
Everyone talks about usability these days, although in most contexts, it is application usability being discussed. I don’t hear as many discussions about hardware usability as I used to. That’s a tremendous “miss” in my opinion. I hear a lot more discussion of the color choices for carts used in computer on wheels implementations than I do about the computers that will ride on those carts. (And for the record, if I was asked — which I wasn’t — I would have picked colors that would have helped identify which users left their carts abandoned in the hallways for me to weave through on rounds — red for phlebotomy, pink for OB registrars, green for interns, etc.)
Some CIOs I know are quick to blame software vendors for poor usability, failing to realize that hardware often plays as much a role in how usable a clinical application is as does the operation of the application itself. Case in point: an orthopedic surgeon to whom I regularly refer patients cornered me in the doctors’ lounge complaining about his EHR (which happens to be the same one I use in practice). He wanted to know how I stand “all that scrolling you have to do all day long.”
I told him I haven’t had to scroll since taking Version X of the application in 2009 and asked if he was on an older version. No, he said he was on the same version I was. Even though he’s employed by a competitor, as the designated “computer expert,” I wanted to help him. (Plus, he’s a darned good surgeon and always sends me a nice bottle of wine at the holidays.) I asked him to send me a screen shot of his scrolling problem.
After a brief phone call to explain how to do a screen shot, I had his answer. His wide-aspect laptop didn’t allow his workflow to appear without scrolling. His application fell off the bottom of the screen and he had a huge amount of white space on the right. The scope of choice allowed by his IT department is this — Tablet PC (one option) vs. Laptop (one option) vs. Desktop (one option).
For the last two years, he had been blaming the software vendor, when really it was the hardware. I sent him a screen shot of my workflow — the patient’s chart fits neatly on the screen with no problem. Although I’m sure his laptop is great for streaming Netflix, it wasn’t a good choice for his EHR.
I understand that there are a great number of choices in the market today and hospitals can’t be expected to support each and every one. It’s not practical for contracting and procurement, it’s expensive, and it’s a support nightmare. On the other hand, IT departments have a duty to provide hardware that properly displays applications and meets user needs for durability, portability, and speed.
Hardware vendors are savvy and will continue to create new platforms and expand on those already in the marketplace. Users are savvy and will always want the latest and greatest in hopes that it will make their work easier. IT teams who can temper their own needs and wants in favor of those of caregivers and end users will continue to have greater successes than those who don’t.