Health IT should rely on design, not engineering

When creating new technology for healthcare, new tools should not be engineered so users have to conform to them, but designed with how it will be used in mind, according to Leonard D'Avolio, director of Informatics at Ariadne Labs, a joint venture of Brigham and Women's Hospital and the Harvard School of Public Health.

The need for systems to be re-designed, as opposed to re-engineered is urgent, D'Avolio writes at InformationWeek. Designers, he says, must take the needs of users such as physicians and patients in mind when creating systems.

When it comes to shaping health IT, those who use the tools have the clearest understanding of what they need, according to a recent article at the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine. Researchers and clinicians need to team up to fully describe the workflow, information needs and communication processes required for health IT to effectively support clinicians' needs, according to the article.

Currently systems send off a cacophony of alerts and alarms that occasionally get ignored, allow for mistakes via cut-and-paste and contribute to accidental deaths, D'Avolio says.

Because of these problems, basics of design are truly important, he continues. Concepts to understand design include:

  • Contribution from the start: Designers should not be brought in toward the end of the process, D'Avolio says. They should have a role from the beginning and throughout creation of the system.
  • Understanding: Instead of starting with what the solution should be, designers start with understanding who is going to use the product and the environment in which it will be used. This prevents overlooking the real problems that need to be fixed.
  • Process: There are steps to good design, which include soliciting and understanding what users need, identifying solutions and testing them out. When moving ahead on a project, it should be done step by step; "try not to jump ahead to science fiction," D'Avolio says.

In addition, innovation in the healthcare space should move forward using the IT capabilities already in play through "human-centered design thinking," according to Lyle Berkowitz, M.D., associate chief medical officer of innovation at Northwestern Memorial Healthcare.

To learn more:
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