It feels like the healthcare system has a reached a level of complexity bordering on ridiculous these days. As a society, it’s amazing to see how we’ve executed a stunning and valuable experience when it comes to enjoying our music, connecting with friends and relatives and even ordering shoes online (see Apple, Facebook and Zappos, respectively). When it comes to our health, however, the experience is antiquated and painfully analog.
To put it bluntly, the state of the industry is embarrassing. Physicians are haunted by failed system implementations, and have grown rather apathetic after becoming accustomed to mediocre administrative and billing solutions. Some of the systems deployed in medical practices today were built decades ago, but even more “modern” solutions are bereft of innovation, simply expanding upon their predecessors’ obsolete models.
Plus, the amount of administrative waste surrounding a single physician-patient encounter is dizzying. By the time a patient makes it into the examination room, they’ve triggered 20 or more tasks – many of them manual – that span myriad business entities. I don’t think there is any one particular group to blame for getting us here, but I believe healthcare IT can be held accountable for not yet correcting this issue.
I can walk into any business park, toss a stick and hit at least a few health IT consultants. I’m not trying to wrinkle anyone’s designer suit, but we should all understand one thing: the discrepancy between the size of the health IT field and the percentage of actual triumphs suggest we’ve been focusing on all the wrong areas.
The user matters more than anything, period. When we talk about a Health Information Exchange (HIE) or download buttons for Personal Health Records (PHR), a few technical concepts start creeping into the conversation. And while things like data interoperability and standards are crucial to making sure information flow is seamless, they don’t mean much to the people that actually use the software daily.
Data models and vendor integration are highly complex beneath the hood, but the user is only concerned with solving problems. Users care about loading times, how quickly they can perform vital actions, whether the color scheme is off-putting, screen clutter and so on.
The user experience of a software product is its soul. It’s the membrane between human and computer, and it should be calibrated to allow for optimum interaction.
The usability of software is barely a subjective measure. The user can differentiate between easy and annoying very quickly, so instead of bragging about technical terms that mean nothing to our target audience, we should be asking ourselves a very different question:
How intuitive is the interaction between human and computer? To what extent does the user care about a robust set of features and affordability if it’s a hassle to use?
If the proposed solution isn’t more efficient or convenient, it’s redundant, and we don’t need it any more than a fish needs a bicycle.
Take the age-old rivalry between Apple and Microsoft for instance. Apple understood an interface designed for a mouse and keyboard wouldn’t work on touchscreens. So it pioneered an entirely new operating system for its touch devices, while Microsoft chose to port Windows.
Today, Microsoft is struggling to establish itself in a mobile market iOS dominates. Apple knew usability would be the differentiating factor in a battle between otherwise similar devices. Their take on user experience is phenomenal, and it defines the company Apple is today.
The user doesn’t care about technical ‘stuff’ – there is enough to worry about as it is. Users want software with an interface as subtle as a film camera. If you watch a movie and become conscious of the operator’s movements, chances are it’s sloppy.
Our responsibility is to shield physicians and patients from the complexity. We should be striving to better solve the problem, which is to say, create more convenient, economical and user-friendly solutions. Physicians shouldn’t have to settle for the lesser of two, three or even four evils when choosing software to power their practice.
Meaningful Use, physician workflows, insurance claim submissions, patient eligibility and payer denials are simply the cost of doing business. But to assume we’re the only industry with challenges and then forcing the user to share our burden is a tragic mistake.
And if you don’t want to better solve the problem, then leave it to someone with the drive, passion and willingness to get their hands dirty to make this world a healthier place.
Mike Cuesta is Director of Design & Community at CareCloud. Follow him on Twitter: @mikeatcarecloud