The notion of standardized user interface (UI) elements for healthcare IT applications seems vastly warranted. As discussed in an earlier blog post, clinicians are often juggling several tasks at once and as such need applications that require a minimal expenditure of mental energy. A consistent experience across applications can help clinicians reliably and quickly find information that they need to care for patients.
The Microsoft Health Common User Interface (MSCUI) project is to my knowledge the most advanced publicly available set of user interface (UI) design conventions for healthcare IT applications. The MSCUI resulted from a collaboration between Microsoft and the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) and was initially released in 2007. Fortunately, Microsoft has continued maintaining the MSCUI and released a major revision in May 2010. It now includes some useful guidelines on a lot of UI elements common to healthcare IT application, including patient banners, medication timelines, and many more.
A great example of a design convention that can simplify life for clinicians is the the format called for by the MSCUI for displaying a patient banner, which is shown in the following image.
By having a standard patient banner, clinicians can learn to find certain information in the same location, regardless of the application. A patient’s address will always be in the first column of the table, while their phone number will always be in the second column. Even more importantly, a patient’s allergies (which if not noticed could as a worst-case scenario lead to patient death) will always be in the rightmost column.
Such conventions are important to standardize because they have to be learned. After all, there’s nothing inherent about allergy information that would lead users to expect it to be in the rightmost column of a table. So by standardizing conventions, the amount of different conventions that clinicians must learn can be minimized. Not only does this reduce the risk of clinicians overlooking an important bit of information, it also saves clinicians time and mental energy. All this adds up to less time on the computer and more time working with patients.