For the Benefit of the Sick? The Two Speeds of Digitization and UX Design in the Medical Field | by Incari_HMI | Incari-InterFaces | Jan, 2022

Computers can help doctors save lives and support them during complicated, precise surgical procedures. Pilot projects impressively demonstrate the possibilities of modern technologies and state-of-the-art human-machine interfaces in medicine. This contrasts with everyday life in many hospitals, where doctors struggle with the UX of digitization in medicine.

Photo by Irwan iwe on Unsplash

The promise of new technologies is arguably greater in the medical field than any other industry. Digitization is supposed to save more lives, and ensure that doctors have more time for their patients. This ensures they can make more accurate diagnoses and operate even more precisely with the help of new human-machine interfaces — even across thousands of kilometers via remote operations.

However, two speeds of digital progress prevail in the medical world.

In pilot projects, the promise of progress through digitization is being demonstrated in impressive ways, supported by technologies such as VR and AR, as well as robots controlled by doctors in novel, intuitive ways. As early as 2010, a YouTube video from Edward Hospital in Naperville, Illinois, demonstrated how robotic technology can help doctors perform minimally invasive procedures by showing an intervention on a grape. (Incidentally, this video resulted in the “They did surgery on a grape” meme.)

Intervention on a grape

In early 2021, doctors at Galilee Medical Center in Israel succeeded in performing a complicated operation on a patient with fractures at the base of the left eye socket using an entirely new method. Based on a CT scan, doctors printed a 3D model of the patient’s skull. Using AR glasses, the model was placed over the patient’s head, allowing the surgeon to control what to do in real time. The procedure was more precise than without technology and significantly faster. “The future is already here,” the professor and general director of the clinic is reported to have said after the operation. An impressive example of the potential of modern human-machine interfaces to make work easier for doctors and therefore ensure that patients receive better care. It shows what is possible when HMIs are developed with the purpose of making life or work easier.

Yet everyday life in many hospitals couldn’t be further from the promise of digitization’s progress in medicine. Just read what Atul Gawande, Assistant Administrator for Global Health at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, professor at Harvard Medical School and staff writer at The New Yorker, wrote in 2018: “Something’s gone terribly wrong. Doctors are among the most technology-keen people in society; computerization has simplified tasks in many industries. Yet somehow we’ve reached a point where people in the medical profession actively, viscerally, volubly hate their computers.” The headline of his assessment piece? “Why Doctors Hate Their Computers”.

Photo by Piron Guillaume on Unsplash

Gawande quotes a study by the University of Wisconsin, that in 2016 physicians spent two hours working on a computer for every hour seeing a patient, no matter which of the numerous software solutions were used. Instead of making the job of doctors easier, the digitization of medical records, lab results and general processes in hospitals has made their life much more complicated.

One reason is the hardware and software legacy. You’d be shocked to know how many hospitals are still running Windows 7 or Windows XP. According to a 2020 study by cybersecurity firm Palo Alto Networks, more than four out of five medical imaging machines were running on outdated operating systems. Not only is this a significant security risk, but it doesn’t exactly make the work of software developers any easier.

Still, there is hope. New software platforms are giving UX designers new ways to connect humans and machines in an intuitive way. Why would a doctor actually sit in front of a computer screen at work, using a keyboard and mouse to populate complicated databases? Low-code and no-code software solutions enable HMIs to be developed that are radically tailored to the needs of the user. This reduces complexity and therefore allows for more creativity. It also cuts costs, which in turn makes smaller, more optimized solutions profitable, as opposed to giant software suites for hospitals that are so complex that doctors spend more time with them than with their patients.

The classic version of the Hippocratic oath, one of the earliest texts on ethics in medicine from ancient Greece, states: “I will apply dietetic measures for the benefit of the sick according to my ability and judgment; I will keep them from harm and injustice”. Pilot projects show that new technologies and modern HMIs can help surgeons to fulfill this promise. The speed of promising surgery solutions is rapid, but in the day-to-day routines of hospitals, the progress of the digital UX is creeping like a snail. Will a new generation of UX designers with a new generation of tools change that?

Good design should make people’s lives easier — at Incari we are convinced of this. We are a Berlin-based software provider that creates the HMI development platform Incari Studio. We create the required tools and technologies necessary for developing future-based HMI systems in various industries. InterFaces is a platform to explore what such systems can or will look like at some point in the future. Follow us on Twitter: Incari_HMI, Follow us on Instagram: Incari_HMI, Follow us on LinkedIn: Incari HMI Development.

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