by adgrooms on November 27, 2019

We have been writing a series with our thoughts on creating better healthcare software. In this post, we are looking at understanding software's function in the context of clinical use. We have seen software automation bring efficiency and financial gains. While these benefits may be attractive to administration and leadership, software needs to take into account the true purpose of healthcare; humans helping humans. Software’s role becomes more than a manager of data transactions; in the clinical setting, it affects patient outcomes. There is a responsibility for software developers to understand the needs of front line healthcare workers and apply this knowledge to the software.

Front line clinicians have the difficult job of managing patients' needs that can require an array of actions and workflows. There are diagnoses, prescriptions, labs, and referrals to manage in a high-intensity environment for several hours at a time. Technology touches all of these aspects of clinical care in one way or another, and frequent interaction with software is the norm. Software, in roles big and small, is another tool that is now a part of the clinical workflow. It should enhance patient care without impediment to the clinician, like its analog relative, the stethoscope.

Manual tools are used throughout clinical care with the purpose of enhancing the clinician's ability to diagnose and treat a patient. The stethoscope is one of the most widely used tools in healthcare. Instead of placing the ear directly onto the patient’s chest to listen to cardiopulmonary functions, the stethoscope amplifies the sounds to enable the clinician to visually observe the patient at the same time. It provides value to the clinician by enhancing the ability to observe the patient while not impeding workflow. There is nothing about the stethoscope that causes an undue extra cognitive load to take advantage of its complete functionality.

Although software is a much more complex tool than a stethoscope, developers should try to provide the same overall benefits. A piece of software should be an unnoticed tool that fits seamlessly into the clinician's workflow. It works in the background to enhance the clinician's expertise. It should flawlessly work with a minimal cognitive effort from the user. While there may be secondary purposes of the software, like reporting, billing, and research, it shouldn't create an extra step for the clinician. These functions should be automated out of the workflow. Good software should ultimately act as another tool of the physician, like the stethoscope.

Healthcare software must be held to the highest standards of efficiency and functionality. Software developers must work with the front line clinicians to understand their needs to create tools that enhance patient care.