Great Healthcare Technology Is Designed to Disappear

March 22, 2017

9:15 am

Well-designed healthcare technology leads to successful care transitions and talented providers. Poorly designed tech, however, breeds only stories about its shortcomings.

This rule is equally true outside of healthcare. Personal electronics with intuitive interfaces, reliable operating systems, and long-lasting batteries rarely draw ire. Sit down at a buggy terminal running Windows Vista on an underpowered motherboard though, and you might be tempted to smash the computer.

In healthcare, this reality is compounded. Decisions are made moment by moment, dollars are created by providing care for more patients, and regulations sap time from hands-on interactions. Nurses, physicians, and administrators depend on tech improving workflows, not impeding them.

The Good and Bad of Healthcare Technology

Recently, a physician confided in me that he finally learned how to fill out electronic health record forms on his hospital’s system. I was curious what took him so long.

“You don’t understand,” he explained. “I have to fill the form from bottom to top and skip the free-form text entries until the end, or the page refreshes and I have to start from the beginning.”

I winced. He might as well have been the owner of a 1960s Volkswagen describing a quirky technique to get the car running: “Prime the engine a few times, shift from neutral to first, adjust the rear-view mirror, and hope for the best.”

As a literature review of well-implemented healthcare technologies highlights, good tech improves workflow efficiency by minimizing interruptions and time at the computer. However, robust and feature-rich systems are perceived as difficult to use, causing care managers to lose some of their bedside manners and patients to feel frustrated by impersonal care. Some of the most promising technology had violated tech design rule No. 1: Tech should fit itself to the user, not force the user to conform.

Tips to Create Healthcare Tech That Works

Good tech blends into the background, facilitating operations, and improving quality of care. Make sure new healthcare tech has a positive impact by heeding these tips:

Put the User on a Pedestal

Before writing a single line of code, empathize with your end user. Watch their workflow. Ask questions when their brow furrows as they repeats a task for the fifth time that hour. Learn what the boss expects of them and what they enjoy most about the workflow.

Treat Training as Part of the Product

A successful ramp-up with a new client is like a magician’s disappearing trick: By the time new users are trained, they don’t think about using the technology, but they will have grown to rely on it. They'll go from first-adopters to training ambassadors.

Present Relevant Information with Detail

Care managers, doctors, and executives can retain only so much information at once. Many digital health tools focus on making data accessible. Don’t overwhelm a user with excess information for fear of overdoing it.

Design a Cohesive Customer Support Experience

Even the best technology and the smartest users occasionally need technical or customer support. Make sure you are developing products and support teams interoperable. Nothing’s quite as irksome as wasting time on simple questions before addressing the actual issue.

Heed the Words of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

“Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

Keep your product simple and value-centric, where features act as a collective means to an end. When healthcare technology does its job, it doesn’t interrupt or complicate vital tasks. On the contrary, good tech disappears as a routine part of the workflow, retreating into the muscle memory of the people who use it.

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Blake Marggraff is CEO of Epharmix, a company at the intersection of medicine and consumer technology offering interventions that use automated phone calls or text messages to manage patients’ conditions while collecting disease-specific data. With interventions designed by leading doctors and clinically proven at medical institutions, every patient can benefit from Epharmix.