Driven by the U.S. economic stimulus package, which earmarked billions of dollars to upgrade the nation's health information technology, user experience is in vogue across the American health industry.
I saw the results of this at the 2010 Boston Mini-UPA conference last week. Five of the speaker topics referenced healthcare. One session gave an overview of testing medical devices for FDA validation, and the other speakers talked about healthcare in the context of patient websites, pharmaceutical branding, mobile design, and general tips on what makes the domain unique.
When practitioners follow the money, they must be prepared for the special challenges in this field. Bureaucracy, paper records, and heavy regulation drastically slow the pace of healthcare innovation. I'm reminded of this every time I visit my doctor's small practice, composed of two full-time paper pushers, one nurse, and one physician. Shelves sag under dusty files, and every year I have to fill out and sign the same paper forms.
Still, healthcare IT change is happening. My doctor now brings a laptop into the exam room and transmits prescriptions directly to the pharmacy. Now a chicken-scratched paper prescription cannot be misinterpreted at the pharmacy!
At the conference I found privacy and openness conflicts remain a huge source of tension in healthcare user experience. UX designer Kate Brigham presented the website patientslikeme.com, which makes all its user information public. During Q&A, followup questions about privacy showed attendees didn't quite grok this bold approach.
It reminded me of doubt about ecommerce safety ten to fifteen years ago, or distrust of ATM's even more years past. In both cases, careful customer experience research and design helped overcome reservations about a newer, more efficient way to accomplish things. Contrast the antiquated experience at many doctor's offices with the slick, computerized process at CVS MinuteClinics, where people browse appointments and services on a kiosk and a large display shows who's next. Healthcare is not immune to competition on usability.