The Importance of Intuition in Tech

It seems like the people who make the software have no idea how their software actually works in the real world because, for the most part, they don’t.

Last week I was having a conversation with my mother, who recently transitioned to a new position within the medical field and is training on their new EMR.  She expressed frustration with the training process, and since I am a software trainer (albeit in a different sector) I immediately asked what in particular she was frustrated with.  Was it in the training structure? The method of delivery? What could be done to make it better? I draw inspiration for my own training abilities from wherever I can get them, and I thought this was a perfect opportunity to get some feedback from the user side.

As it turns out, her frustration wasn’t with the training…it was with the EMR itself.  For instance, she explained, ordering equipment on the system (the vendor of which shall remain nameless) is a three step process: Placing the order, creating a task for it in a completely separate module, and manually cancelling the task once the item has been received. “This is ridiculous!” she fumed. “Why does it seems like the people who make the software have NO idea how the software is actually used in the real world?” she vented.

Although I work in a different sector, I field that question in my own work on a fairly regular basis.  “Why do I have to go to three screens to do this?” or “Why can’t I just change one field and have it update other dependent fields automatically?” It can be extraordinarily frustrating not only for the person asking the question, but for the person they are asking; especially when that person understands the frustration and agrees that a particular workflow is cumbersome and should be changed.

The answer to those questions is just as frustrating for users and those of us who work closely with them: It seems like the people who make the software have no idea how their software actually works in the real world because, for the most part, they don’t. The programmers designing the software view everything through the programming lens, and they often put things places that makes sense programmatically. That’s fine for them, but it creates chaos for users, who are not programmers. At its mildest form, this can create extra clicks or add an extra 30 seconds to a particular task. But at its worst, especially within the Healthcare IT field, it contributes to errors which can lead to adverse health events, up to and including patient deaths.

Forward-thinking organizations are starting to recognize this as an issue, and have started considering usability in their designs. I am all for this kind of collaboration between the SME’s (programmers and designers) and the users; it leads to better products and easier workflows. Users want intuitive software, which you see in abundance in social media platforms. The more intuitive it is to use, the quicker you learn to use it correctly and the less likely you are to have errors. It may be complicated and at times painful for the software developers, but think of it this way: Millennials are now the largest cohort in the US, and they grew up with technology…technology which has been getting more intuitive and easier to use for decades now. Within any sector, software platforms do the same thing as your competitors 90% of the time so differentiating yourself through function is difficult. If you expect to compete in the market in the future and sell your products to new clients, the intuitiveness and usability of your software is going to be the key selling point with the largest cohort of users and decision makers.

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