As a user experience designer, my goal is to help design products and software that are as easy, efficient, and enjoyable to use as possible. When it comes to healthcare applications, a fundamental part of this process involves understanding the workflows and processes employed by clinicians in the course of their daily work. By understanding workflows, healthcare applications can complement rather than compete with the everyday tasks that clinicians must complete.
In addition to the actual medical work being accomplished by clinicians, there are a variety of factors unique to healthcare that affect workflow. Just to name a few, there are: third-party payments, various state and federal insurance mandates, nursing shortages, increased physician specialization…the list goes on. These aspects–which by the way are constantly evolving–make understanding healthcare workflows challenging. Not only do clinical workflows vary between different specialties (e.g. cardiology vs. radiology), but oftentimes they vary between different providers within a given specialty. It really is true that “everyone has their own way of doing it.”
The best way to identify similarities and patterns in workflows is to actually observe users. It is well known within the field of user experience that users are notoriously bad at self-reporting their behavior, as they often say things they should do instead of what they actually do. Depending on the application and the degree of change involved, the right user research may be as simple as some 2-hour-long contextual inquiries with local users or as comprehensive as a multi-city round of ethnographic research, in which single users may be studied for a day or two.
Whatever the method, the point of the exercise is to characterize how users spend their time interacting with not only the information controlled by the system being design but also with other tasks that may influence how they perform their work. Take the example of a healthcare billing application: users may follow one set of steps for a patient on Medicare, a different set of steps for a patient on private insurance, and still a different set of steps for a patient paying in cash. Without understanding the users’ workflow, it would be difficult to design an application that effectively meets the users’ needs.
Needless to say, the dynamics of the healthcare industry are complex. By understanding clinician workflows and integrating those workflows into the design of healthcare applications, healthcare application designers can help make life easier for clinicians.