The focus on design for health IT at the HxRefactored conference on March 31 raised several tough questions about the hazard-strewn path app developers must travel in that field. My sampling of introductory workshops and afternoon sessions (I unfortunately had the chance to attend only the first day of the two-day conference) brought up many fine design principles, but most of the presenters were general-purpose designers having limited experience in health care. Still, some important distinctions to recognize when entering health IT came up.
One factor making design is so difficult in health care is the vast variety of tasks health care professionals perform. If you’re designing an app to reserve a restaurant table or buy a sweater, how many pathways can a user take? Probably at most a dozen or two. Now think of a hospital ward: one patient whose heart has to be monitored constantly, another who needs regular injections, and yet another whose medication has put her in a delirium that leads her to jump out of bed and wander. Truly, the pathways that a doctor or nurse can take through the health care application verges on the infinite.