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A matter of life and death: the importance of UI testing in healthcare

By Stacey Hirst

Digital Marketing Assistant


Great user interface design and UI testing isn’t just about making things look ‘pretty’. It’s about achieving the perfect blend of consistency, clarity, responsiveness and yes, in many instances, attractiveness. However, there is one industry where effective user experiences are literally critical – in fact, it could be a matter of life and death.

With healthcare becoming more and more reliant on technology and with our medical professionals being continually stretched, it has never been more important to ensure vital equipment and medical devices are as user-friendly as possible.

The vital role of UI testing in healthcare

With an increasing population worldwide, more healthcare providers than ever, and growing needs and expectations from patients, the pressure is well and truly on. The supply of qualified professionals used to dealing with complex user interfaces is not meeting the demand for trained medical specialists – bad design and a lack of UI testing are part of the problem.

According to a new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine:

“During the office day, [doctors] spent 27% of their total time on direct clinical face time with patients and 49.2% of their time on [electronic health records] and desk work.”

The medical professionals we do have access to are spending almost half of their time dealing with administration tasks. This process could be simplified through the implementation of better user interfaces and regular UI testing, an essential process that helps highlight any key problems – and fix them.

Rewards can be great, but mistakes can be costly

When the UI is spot on and medical devices do what they’re supposed to do, the rewards could not be any better. By giving users what they need, when they need it, and improving the systems for documentation and data input, everyone would feel the benefits. The quality of care would go up, appointment availability would increase and our doctors’ workload would be improved.

Not only in terms of expense (although medical equipment with a bad user interface can still cost millions); one mistake due to a poor UI and lack of user testing could result in something worse than misspent pounds. It can lead to poor patient care and, worst-case scenario, the loss of a life. Don’t forget Murphy’s Law: “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”.

How Bad UX Killed Jenny is a renowned story about how three experienced nurses missed a crucial piece of information on a hospital monitor, a distraction that ended up costing a patient’s life. How did they miss something so fateful?

The answer is simple: they were simply using a system with a terrible user interface. The difference between Jenny’s life and her inevitable death was as minor as an unchecked tick box. A tragic, but very real example of how bad UI design can be consequential beyond the user.

Gaining the advantage

In an increasingly competitive industry, technological advances in British medicine can be game-changing and put our healthcare at the forefront of innovation.

A good user interface and UI testing are non-negotiable when it comes to ensuring new healthcare equipment is at the top of its game. The way to find this out? Investing in more user testing with industry professionals. We promise it’s less costly than the alternative (both in terms of budget and patient care).

UX in the City – Oxford

The healthcare revolution is coming – gone are the days where the traditional healthcare field was progressing at a snail’s pace. An exciting upcoming event UX in the City Oxford (20th-21st April 2017) is a community-driven, practical user experience conference in the heart of Oxford.

This year’s event will feature a number of thought-provoking case studies surrounding the health industry, such as ‘Hetty’s Hospital – health experiences for younger children to lower anxiety in hospitals’ and ‘Surgical UX: designing for visualisation systems in endovascular surgery’.

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About the author: Stacey Hirst is the Digital Marketing Assistant at People for Research. She is our content expert and a bit of a geek! You can find her on Twitter or Instagram, engaging with participants and chatting with clients.

About People for Research: We recruit participants for UX and usability testing and market research. We work with award winning UX agencies across the UK and partner with a number of end clients who are leading the way with in-house user experience and insight.

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