Usability Challenges with Medical Software

By Jonathan Knopf

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Whether you ask patients, physicians, or administrators, they all have the same overall opinion of the healthcare system. “It's all over the place.” Your typical radiologist and primary care physician likely have complete different workflows, communication channels, and software systems to document a patient’s care and clearly don’t communicate to each other.

Usability in healthcare is unique in that the creation of more usable systems not only saves time and money on development, but it can also save lives! Some of the usability problems apparent in electronic medical records (EMR) and electronic health records (EHR) include: violations of natural dialog, control consistency, effective use of language, effective information presentation, and customization principles, as well as a lack of error prevention, minimization of cognitive load, and feedback.

As both a UX/UI designer of medical software and a recent ACL reconstruction patient, I became aware of several usability challenges that make designing software for EMR/HER software quite complex. In this article, I will detail five challenges that I have observed and some recommendations for ensuring maximum user satisfaction.

 

  1. Legacy Software and Software Lifetime
    • This is one of the biggest roadblocks to user satisfaction as making UI improvements may ultimately lead to a Frankenstein software appearance; great UI components may stick out like a sore thumb when added to an old product. There is a lot of fear involved in improving the look and feel of medical software, particularly due to the risk of user error involved with unfamiliarity. This fear should not impede the progress of the product. Software suppliers could potentially risk more by not modernizing their software. Prior to rolling out a UI overhaul, make sure your users are on board with your changes. If not, make sure they have the ability to revert to a previous version (ex. “Modern View” vs. “Classic View”).
  1. Personas, Personas, Personas
    • In healthcare, personas are not primarily for patients, but rather for the specific types of health care providers who use software to treat their patients. The differences between how an admin uses EMR software and how a radiologist uses it are drastically different, both in motivators, features needed, and workflow. It is absolutely critical that you focus on identifying each provider’s persona so you can ensure that the software is providing optimal relevance, efficiency, and ease of use for their workflow. With so many abbreviations and acronyms in the medical world, make sure you are using terms that are familiar to all of your personas.
  1. UI Design Alignment and Customization
    • If you manage more than one UI with different features and workflows, you will need to consider the value of customizing vs. standardizing. Standardization is preferred, but maximizing workflow efficiency is likely more important to users than maintaining the same look and feel. Wherever possible, put your designs in front of your various personas and conduct UX research to determine their preferences and needs.
  1. Intuitiveness and Cognitive Load
    • One of the biggest issues with healthcare software comes from a lack of natural intuitiveness in designs and language. Interfaces should be designed to minimize the cognitive workload on users, not rely on them to follow instructions from a manual, which they seldom read. Elements should be positioned where they follow a simple logical order, provide clear feedback regarding next steps, and minimize the number of steps needed to complete an action.
  1. Error Handling
    • A usability concern that appears in every user facing system is its error handling. Make sure that your error messages are placed within the context of the error location, provide visual clues that an error has occurred, and show the user where the error is located. Visual error feedback should be displayed as soon as possible, not after a form has already been submitted. Provide clear and simple instructions as to how the error can be corrected and, where possible, do not allow the user to advance beyond the error point until it has been corrected. Error handling is another important component to put in front of users. Human factors testing can determine if the users see the messages and are able to take the necessary steps to correct them.

Key Lime Interactive is a usability research and augmented staffing agency capable of identifying any usability issues in medical devices and software since 2009. If you are experiencing some of these challenges with your medical device software and need a strategic roadmap for improvement, contact us at info@keylimeinteractive.com.

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