Issue No. 03 - July-September (2007 vol. 6)
DOI Bookmark: http://doi.ieeecomputersociety.org/10.1109/MPRV.2007.59
People First, Computers Second
Roy Want's "People First, Computers Second" column (Jan.–Mar. 2007) raised some good points regarding certain people's hesitation to use computers. This happens in not only the healthcare industry but also in many other fields.
I agree that we often end up with computer- rather than people-centric systems. However, communication skills are key. Developing a nontechnical interface is essential because it significantly contributes to a user's willingness to adopt new technology. Communicating with nontechnical people is part and parcel of any computer professional's job. Explaining technical concepts to those with less technical knowledge is challenging for many of us. Most users don't expect to have to understand anything more about computers than what applies to them. For example, if they just need to send email and write business letters in Word, they just want to know how long will it take and how much it will cost. They're not concerned with how the technology works or what other features are available.
Sometimes, the problem with introducing new technology isn't that the established professionals can't learn quickly; rather, it's how computer professionals interact with them that affects their attitude. When I started as a system administrator, I thought that the most important thing was providing accurate information. In my desire to be as thorough as possible, I would detail all of the technical possibilities and variables. What I failed to understand was that even the most accurate answer is useless if it can't be understood. In fact, it can be detrimental if it creates an impression that the computer isn't easy to use. We must provide accurate technical information without seeming to speak another language.
Moreover, to create an effective communication environment, we must answer the same question differently depending on who asks it. It also helps when we ask follow-up questions to help users clarify the problems. Furthermore, when users have difficulty understanding something, we should demonstrate the technology using real-world examples.
Finally, computer professionals often must make decisions that are really management's responsibility. Questions such as whether to purchase or lease equipment is a decision for the controller. Considering whether to filter Internet content is a political decision to be made by the executives. Computer professionals should play a role in these decisions, but they shouldn't be the sole decision-maker. Our job is to make the technical issues clear to the people who understand the organization's finances and politics so they have the tools they need to make informed decisions and to do their jobs.
So yes, putting people first and computers second makes computers more helpful and popular.
Information Technology Manager
University of British Columbia
I completely agree with Roy Want's column, "People First, Computers Second." I'm an assistant professor in computer science, and my research focus is ubiquitous computing and ambient intelligence, especially for healthcare. My wife is a nurse and has the same opinion as Want's wife about computers in a hospital ward. She says, "I only need to use a computer to determine the patient's diet, but even this is frustrating and a waste of time."
I thought about this and how we could better introduce computers in hospitals, and I realized we need to focus on quasi-disappearing interaction. In other words, we must solve some information management problems without extra user interaction. So, my research group is now working to assist with nursing activities using near-field communication technology. Using NFC, the nurses need only touch a patient's tag with a mobile phone to identify prescribed drugs and doses, identify patient concerns, and monitor the patient's pulse and blood pressure. I think the technology is very easy to use, but unfortunately, my wife is still frustrated. We still need to work with the nurses to better understand how the hospital works.
NCF technology could also help manage the problem of different logins and passwords by storing each hospital worker's security user profile in mobile phones. Thus, simply touching a contextual tag with the mobile phone would provide the necessary login, so nurses wouldn't need multiple logins and passwords. If Want can convince his wife to try this technology, let me know and maybe I'll be able to convince my wife!
Congratulations on reflecting a hospital reality, though I'm afraid this is a lost battle for us.