Better health through technology?
Posted by Meg Bear on April 3, 2009
I got to see first hand, a technology disaster today. It wasn’t a complete disaster but it was pretty close.
We took our 3 year old daughter in for a second round of ear tubes (everything went great, thanks for asking!). Parents with small children are probably familiar with this procedure, it’s very common and a simple surgery. Since we did it once before a year ago we were pretty relaxed and knew [generally] what to expect. We knew the staff was not only well trained and experienced, but they were also really nice people.
Today, each of those very nice people were completely stressed out. Not by the crying children or the paranoid parents, but by the new computer system that was in it’s third day of a go-live.
My husband and I suspected something was up, when we saw people in vests with the word Support walking around. In fact, there were three different colors of vests and lots of people wearing them. As go-lives go this seemed to be a well-staffed hand-holding support process, +1 for the implementation team. In addition, everyone seemed mostly on board with the idea that they were going to make the technology work. Everyone was really trying their best to make it work.
What took all this good preparation down, was the complete lack of usability of the system. It was both heart breaking and comical, how many times people got confused and lost along the way. The nurse doing the pre-op vitals couldn’t find the right page to put in the data. The post-op nurses could not find data they had just put in, the doctor’s post-op instructions seemed to be lost in the ether and getting a print out of the release documentation took several tries. I did not see a single task successfully completed without engaging the help of a vested person, and sometimes that didn’t even work.
Not only were these tasks incredibly difficult for the staff, they were feeling very bad that they could not be as helpful and as reassuring to the patients since they were finding themselves completely stressed out doing their job. I have blogged before about how usability really matters, what a perfect example to prove the point.
The human cost of software that does not consider the end user is so much higher than we realize. People should not have to feel so stressed to learn a new system. Sure, learning anything new is a challenge but this was not a challenge, this was an embarrassment.
So to the wonderful people at the surgery center, I wish you the best of luck, and to all the suppliers of software for the health care industry — please get it together, we need happy doctors and nurses not stressed out ones. Our health may just depend on it.