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How to Rescue Health Care UX from the Toilet

Eric Schoeberlein

Eric Schoeberlein

Alright, think about the last time you used a public restroom. Did the door lock properly? Did you accidentally make eye contact with someone through the gap in the stall door? Did the toilet paper keep ripping in the exact spot you were pulling, causing a little mountain of TP bits on the floor? Don’t even get me started on the sink. Did the water come on when you put your hands under the sensor? Probably not. Did your hands touch the back of the sink as you washed them because the faucet doesn’t quite extend far enough? Did the water splash up onto your pants, making it look like you wet yourself? Did the hand towels rip prematurely because the water from your hands weakened the structural integrity of the paper even though you followed the directions precisely and pulled with both hands?

Suffice it to say, a lot can go wrong.


The details matter

Each of these scenarios is a minor inconvenience. But the sum of these experiences becomes something much more negative. A bathroom is a thing that should just work! I don’t know how those hand washing sensors work, or why the faucet is always so close to the back of the sink. All I know is that it should work better. It should work the way I expect it to, dammit.

Bad sink

Empathize with the user

Now imagine a healthcare provider, whose goal is to help their patients get better. In comparison to bathroom troubles, poor healthcare IT could be catastrophic. Providers want to get in and out of the software so they can focus on the patient and their needs, but most of the time, the software gets in the way. Actually, that’s part of athenahealth’s stated goals: to not get in the way of the provider-patient relationship and preserve its sanctity. We have all heard or read about the inconveniences healthcare software can cause. Did the page load right away? Is the information they're looking for readily available? Is it readable? How much clicking or scrolling do they need to do? Do they know what step to take next? Do they know how to get help?

Just like the bathroom experience, all these little things add up and become something much, much worse. Even one negative experience can breed contempt and dissatisfaction. It can sully not only the provider experience, but the patient experience as well. They can act like a poison, slowly killing your product, service, or reputation. So, our job is not only to build effective and efficient software and services, but to wipe away the failures of those who have come before us.

So what can you do to think about the experience?

  • Pay attention. The next to time you use a restroom, or are browsing on the web or using athenaNet, notice all the little things that work the way you expect them to. And all the little things that piss you off. Pun intended.
  • Empathize with the providers. They have a lot on their plates and work in a highly stressful environment. Our software is one little part of what they do. And they expect it to work. Not only that, but it’s an opportunity for us to make it work even BETTER than they expect it to. This is our chance to delight and engage our users.
  • Consider the big picture. One little glitch or bug or misaligned label is no big deal. But add them all up, and you’ve got yourself a big problem.

User experiences: From utter frustration to absolute delight

Nothing about the experience should get in the way of your goals. When something’s not working as you expect, you notice it. It’s frustrating and disruptive. At the very least, the whole experience should be pleasant and unobtrusive. At best, the experience should create delightful and engaging moments that stand out and make us want more. As UX professionals, these are exactly the types of experiences we strive to create.

Just to be clear, we work on our athenaNet software, not on our bathrooms.