by  Olesya Krystynyak

How to Save Lives by Reducing User Interface Errors

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Can the process of design influence healthcare? Learn how to build medical applications with a user interface that will reduce the number of system malfunctions.

Every now and then social media stories pop up about system mistakes that cost lives, but the story by Jonathan Shariat about medical record software leading to a fatal outcome made me feel shivers down my spine:

“After the medicine was administered, three nurses [who] were attending to the charting software to enter in everything required of them and make the appropriate orders, missed a very critical piece of information. Jenny was supposed to be given 3 days of I.V. hydration. But the three nurses, with over 10 years experience, were too distracted trying to figure out the software they were using, they completely missed it. When the morning nurse came in the next day, she had died of toxicity and dehydration. ”

Unfortunately, it is impossible to completely eliminate human error for now, but there are ways to reduce errors by improving the user interface and connection between medical devices. In this blog, I will focus on the main issues causing malfunctions and undesirable effects.

Complicated Navigation

Let’s draw a parallel between building a hospital and designing medical software. Even though it’s very complicated to keep close connection between all the departments at every stage of managing the hospital, there’s no way the units are separated. For example, the emergency department should work closely with the registration o ffice, physician offices of all realms are supposed to be aware of each other’s scope, the diagnosis center has to be easily accessible for any unit – all the departments should have a clear navigation system.

UX designers should be guided by the same principles as hospital managers, taking into account human behaviors and helping them make the right decision. When we come to a hospital searching for a specialist we address an administrator to direct us to the needed specialist. The same scheme works in applications: without proper navigation and well-designed search functionality, we get lost.

Data Input and Visible Tracking

The weakest place in medical applications is the visibility of data tracking and data input. Since medical staff shifts regularly, it is essential to have the latest healthcare records easily accessible and well visualized. Also, there is a huge amount of patient information that should be recorded by the system. That’s why these parts need to be carefully designed in a clear-cut, sophisticated, and readable way.

Timing and Notifications

Physicians do not practice in a single location: they are mobile. Today they have appointments in their private offices; tomorrow they have home visits on their agenda. Having a bunch of different activities all day, from seeing patients to consulting other clinicians, there are moments when every second counts and their expertise is urgently needed. For smooth decision-making, healthcare staff always stays connected to each other – and an outdated pager is not an answer anymore. A few years ago pagers were substituted with a HIPAA compliant messenger for cross platform devices, i.e. not only desktop computers are connected, but also tablets and cellphones. However, this device couldn’t offer painless notification tracking and visibility. Now instead, wearable devices such as smart watches, allow staff to receive information and respond with a predefined answer in one click. Communication patterns should be patient-centered, especially when it comes to care teams, which unite doctors and medical staff of different profiles and specialties around one particular situation.

Privacy Policy

While designing healthcare software we should study all the HIPAA compliancy requirements, paying special attention to the HIPAA Privacy Rule concerning individually identifiable health information. In a nutshell, this is the reason why healthcare staff need to enter their credentials countless times a day. To make the process, less time-consuming, entering a password could be replaced by biometric login, such as fingerprints or iris recognition. At the same time, a personal identifier – a phone or a smart watch on a doctor’s wrist – might serve as an additional login safety measure, especially for systems that require double authentication.


So, will implementing better technologies make healthcare more cost-effective and provide a high quality delivery system? New ways of collaboration may streamline clinical workflows and coordinate care units more efficiently, while wearable technologies may significantly contribute to in-time notification, more efficient tracking, and prompt responding. Both governmental institutions and software vendors that design medical applications should set up a thought-out design process with more frequent and rigorous predefined testing. Also, involving medical specialists in the process of design may resolve a lot of weak points and reduce the number of system malfunctions. Do not underestimate the power of us er interface!