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Readers Write: Good Product Design is Preventive Medicine for your Software

August 21, 2013 Readers Write No Comments

Good Product Design is Preventive Medicine for your Software
By Ryan Secan, MD, MPH

As a practicing hospitalist physician, I see many patients with untreatable or difficult-to-treat disease that could have been prevented with care before their illness took root. From the lifelong smoker with emphysema who might have quit smoking to the patient with end-stage colon cancer who should have had a screening colonoscopy, dealing with the issue before it started would have potentially prevented their problem.

As a practicing informaticist, I also see parallels between the preventive situations described above and common issues that I’ve faced in healthcare IT. When it comes to healthcare IT, it seems that like patients, too many companies are ignoring preventive care for their product.

As an employed physician, I have limited to no choice regarding what software I use for clinical care. Even as an informaticist, I have inherited my share of decisions regarding software that took place before I had a chance to offer input. Often these software choices that my colleagues and I are forced to use appear to be designed without ever considering the workflows of the clinicians who would use them. It just doesn’t seem possible that any physician involved in product development would allow something this difficult for a clinician to use to be rolled out.

One simple example involves ordering medications in an unnamed product. After typing in a medication name, clicking on it to select it, clicking on a prepopulated order string, and clicking OK (already too many clicks), the pop-up window cycle starts. A click to confirm that I understand that the medication requires dosing based on kidney function, a click to confirm that I know that the kidney function is X (or unable to be calculated), and another click to confirm that the appropriate dose for this level of kidney function is Y (it remains unclear why all of these notations couldn’t be in one window).

Worst of all, if the correct dose is different from what I’ve ordered, it doesn’t offer to change the order or allow me to cancel my already entered order. I need to cancel the old order and order the medication again, remembering the correct dose, and once again going through the multiple windows telling me that the medication must be dosed for kidney function, etc. This is a completely absurd process and a missed opportunity.

Instead of having unhappy customers and trying to repair the damage after the fact, HIT companies need to invest the time and effort in product design. Seek advice from experts (you know, the people who will be using your product) and make sure your product fits into your clients’ workflow. Build customization into your product so it can be adapted to the particular workflows of your individual clients, and make the customization more than just cosmetic. When you get feedback from one client regarding problems, make changes for all of your clients so your entire user base can benefit from each other’s experience.

This preventive medicine will prevent difficult (or impossible) to fix problems down the road.

Ryan Secan, MD, MPH is chief medical officer of MedAptus.

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