I was absent-mindedly playing with my iPhone today and took special notice of a feature I have rarely used before. If you swipe all the way to the left on the home screen, you will get a search bar to search all of your iPhone. This includes contacts, iMessages, and apps. I’ve never needed to use this before—a testament to the iPhone’s ease of use. Just prior to this, I was working on some patient notes using my hospital’s electronic medical record (EMR). In contrast, each task I performed required a highly-regimented, multi-click process to accomplish.
Criticizing EMR interfaces is a well-loved pastime among clinicians. Here, however, I am going to take an oblique approach and reflect instead on what has made good interfaces (all outside of medicine, it turns out) recognized as such.
The Google Algorithm often gets credit for Google winning the Great Search Engine War. Indeed, there are whole teams dedicated to improving it. However, if you compare algorithms today, even 5 years ago, the differences in results have been only marginal. How does Google stay ahead? Speed. Google has done extensive research to determine what keeps users coming back and it is unequivocally speed of results. It has been much of the motivation for creating their own browser (Chrome) and operating system (Android). Speed means more searches and more searches means more money for Google.
With EMRs, wait times to store and retrieve data can be extremely long. Moreover, it frequently takes multiple clicks to get to the precise page you want, further compounding the problem. But how slow is slow? Research in web user behavior indicates that 47% of consumers expect a web page to load in 2 seconds or less and that 40% of people abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load. It regularly takes over 3 seconds to retrieve an important piece of data from an EMR. That makes the experience constantly frustrating; I wish there was another EMR I could switch to. (As a fun aside, I often find myself logging into two computers side-by-side in the hospital to save precious seconds waiting for the computer to load.)