Standards for Medical Technology by Fiona Campbell

We had a fantastic talk today by Dr. Terry Fairbanks on the role of Human Factors Engineering in healthcare. It was a very insightful presentation that sparked more questions than answers. Why do we insist, time and again, that people conform to technology and existing systems rather than designing with human limitations in mind? Why do we implement rules based on how work is supposed to be done rather than how work is being done, when we are all aware of the gap between the two? Why do we expect health professionals to achieve perfection when we accept errors from most other people?

It’s frustrating to see how far behind healthcare is compared to most other industries. We are slow to change and slow to adopt technology. It’s even more frustrating to see technology that we have adopted that looks like it was designed by a 10-year-old. As Dr. Fairbanks pointed out, we uphold healthcare products to a different standard than consumer products. When it comes to quality of materials and processing (eg sterility), healthcare products are often held to a higher standard, as they should be (and as is reflected in their price). But when it comes to intuitive user interface and logical design, this standard is often much, much lower. How can it be that virtually every website has a more intuitive user interface than the electronic medical records I’ve tried to use? Or children’s toys that seem to have more logic in their button design than the defibrillators used in situations when every minute matters? Is it because health professionals are supposed to be smart, educated people and therefore are up for the challenge of using more complicated technology than the average person? Perhaps those designing the technology don’t consult with or bother to try to understand their users? Well no matter how smart and educated I become, I think I would take a defibrillator that looks like it’s from Toys-R-Us over one that has the ability to turn itself off, costing 2-3 minutes and possibly a life, just because I pushed the wrong button in a moment of panic.