Health care solutions built with empathy

September 29, 2021 / By Steve Austin

Traditionally, health care solutions and applications have been somewhat behind the technology curve. But, now we’re seeing a high demand in the market for solutions that deliver more automation to solve workflow bottlenecks and improve efficiency. Not coincidently, we see lots of articles and discussion around user fatigue and burnout. Greater automation is certainly a key component to improving the user experience, but product design—when users do have to interact with systems—is equally important. Poorly designed systems are a drain on the entire organization, detracting from time actually caring for patients.

Recently, I had the chance to talk with Alyssa Brown, a senior user experience designer at 3M, about her perspective on reducing user fatigue. Alyssa has a master’s degree in engineering design innovation and works with 3M HIS’s revenue cycle product development teams Here is our discussion about creating a positive user experience and how creating systems with the end user in mind make for a better and more efficient system.

Steve: As a user experience designer, what do you think are the factors that contribute to user fatigue?

Alyssa: One of the main things that contributes to user burnout is when software isn’t useful or appropriately designed for that end user. For example, trying to retrofit a particular tool to a new use case it was not designed for – that can really strongly contribute to fatigue. You’re introducing work-arounds and having your end users look at screens where maybe only 10 percent of it is relevant to what they’re trying to do.

Or maybe you’re having them perform a workflow in a tool that’s not efficient because, again, that tool wasn’t designed for that use case. Some people see software as just a tool that is sufficient as long as it “works,” but I think we need to remember that people are using our programs all day—not machines. When you have the right tool for the job, you can achieve better outcomes.  

Steve: How can design help users, mitigate user fatigue and improve health care delivery and outcomes? Can design improve the care of patients?

Alyssa: Yes, 100 percent. I think there are a couple of different ways that design can help do that. One is through design strategy: Doing the research upfront, observing user workflows, figuring out what those core jobs are, and then designing the systems to meet that particular scenario and enable that person to do the job to the best of their ability.

Then you can start looking at more specific things like using similar iconography, typography, interaction patterns and color schemes that the user is familiar with to reduce the cognitive load to use the product. Our users are dealing with burnout and mental exhaustion, so anything we can do to reduce their cognitive load, like reducing decision fatigue and removing things that are slight annoyances, is beneficial.

Steve: Many health care systems are by nature a very complex. Is it realistic to suggest that health care applications can be as easy to use as, for example, Google Maps or other popular consumer apps?

Alyssa: Absolutely, but there are a lot of technology regulations within health care that delay the development, release and implementation of software updates. To be fair, when it comes to health care products we need to make sure we handle protected health information (PHI) appropriately. It needs to be super secure. There cannot be holes in the products when you release them, and you can’t make mistakes because when these systems go down, it’s a much bigger issue.

There is more complexity involved in health care, but I think we should aim for an experience that is just as intuitive and easy to interact with as many consumer products. Our users, after all, are human. They’re going to have a much more enjoyable experience interacting with software that is made with empathy and emotional value rather than tools that are thrown together and pushed out just because they “work.”

Steve Austin is innovation manager for the 3M 360 Encompass System.


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