Clinical Risks and Design Decisions – How usability can save lifes

Information technology has made possible to improve healthcare services by increasing productivity, getting more accessible services, and automating daily care activities – among others. However, the software itself allows getting a better patient care at the same time that it opens a door to clinical risks. It is a responsability for designers to avoid hazards as well as design rich-interactive solutions.

As you know, it is part of the process of making design decisions: user centred design to ensure usable products. UCD, UX and Usability have a lot of meanings and aspects that influence in reducing the errros that clinical staff could make by only interacting with the software.

I’ll give some examples of how the main topics of usability could avoid clinical risks:

Visibility of system status

Working with the right patient in the right time. Keep always visible the patient information that will help users to identify it without any doubt.

Match between system and the real world

Use clinical language as much as you can to help to understand the purpose, the scope, and to support the clinical process. Clinical procedures has specific names which require clarity unambigously.

User control and freedom

Provide multiple visualization modes to ease the data understanding. Allow performing activities in different orders to get adapted both users and business process. The more natural the process is for the user the more confident s/he will feel.

Consistency and standards

Respect familiarities with the real world activities and with previous software solutions. Clinical staff is very hard-working with protocols and routines, consistency could be boring but effective.

Error prevention

Provide clear points of interaction and valuable data for decision-making. A correct labeling and control aesthetic will help to easily understand how the data can be managed, as well as a correct data presentation will avoid performing wrong actions.

Recognition rather than recall

Reduce the workload by creating recognisable solutions. Do not stress the user with a lot of information to be remembered.

Flexibility and efficiency of use

Provide shortcuts and give a chance to experts, the more efficient they’ll use the solution the more time they’ll spend providing care. Allow users workarounds.

Aesthetic and minimalist design

Minimal design will simplify the data presentation and a good aesthetic will increase the content meaning to facilitate the interpretation and the decision-making. Use aesthetic to provide meaning and avoid decorators that mix up the patient information.

Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors

Allow undo actions for the most critical actions: prescribing medications, deleting patient data, managing patient history, etc. A mistake should be able to be recovered by a an undo action or a rollback process.

Help and documentation

Describe how every care activity can be achieved by your solution. Show main conflicts and risks if there are any dependency between them.

These are only some clues about how putting attention in usability can help to reduce the amount of clinical risks. Lately, every data that is presented in a screen and every allowed interaction between users and clinical software it’s a potential risk to provide a wrong care to patients. Undoubtlely, there are many other hazards non-UI-related that can end up in a catastrophic situation.

Nothing is free of hazards, but good design decisions can save time, costs, and even lifes.

By Carmel Hassan Montero

Product Designer and Computer Engineering graduated from the University of Granada. I'm based in Málaga (Spain), working remotely designing at Honest. I'm also a proud founder of Yes We Tech, and support tech events that care about promoting diversity and equality among its members.