Microsoft Healthvault and Google Health encourage users to enter their daily information for tracking purposes, whether it's a diabetic entering daily glucometer results or a fitness buff tracking weight and body fat. But for all but the most dedicated, browsing the website and manually entering data every day is simply more trouble than it's worth. The process of entering that data must be so natural that it becomes an automatic part of the user's day.
It's not a question of confusing UI or poorly designed UI - Google Health in particular is very straightforward in the way it allows users to enter this data.
When it comes to a solution that needs to track data daily, user needs simply go beyond what a software interface can offer.
Several innovative UI solutions are emerging in the industry:
Voice entry works with all current biometric devices (whereas wireless or wired connectivity requires the purchase of compatible equipment), and is quicker and easier than typing. Wired/wireless solutions require less user intervention and may eliminate user entry error. Numeric keypads are easier to implement than voice or wired/wireless connectivity. Both numeric keypads and wired/wireless connectivity offer more privacy. An ideal self-care system would offer all three modalities. However, we believe voice entry provides the greatest overall value today due to the absence of a widely adopted, common wireless standard.
Although it's true there is no standard for wireless connectivity today, organizations such as Continua Health are pushing this forward, by promoting for example the Bluetooth Health Device Profile. The iPhone 3.0's extended Bluetooth support is another step in the same direction, as evidenced by the demo of the LifeScan glucose reader app for iPhone.
But this implies that a patient is going to have multiple devices - a glucometer, a blood pressure reader, and oximeter, a biofeedback monitor, and an iPhone? Even if these can all communicate, with so many devices, the running joke is that patients will need toolbelts to carry them all.
The All-In-One Mobile Phone
Enter the all-in-one mobile phone, with all the hardware built-in to read your vitals directly. All-in-one's are already in progress, for example the LG phone announced a little over a year ago. The first will probably start with monitoring basic vitals like BP and blood glucose, but it won't be long before we're seeing iPhone's for biofeedback, and Blackberries that double as complete fitness trackers.
"Forget all this!" some of you might say. My father tracked his blood pressure with a pen and paper, and my father's father before him. "I'm sticking with what I know."
When it comes to usability, the familiar certainly has an advantage. Ask anyone who has used a PC for the past 20 years, trying a Mac for the first time - many will admit that while the Mac is intuitive, there is quite a bit of Windows "un-learning" they have to do first.
But you may not have to ditch your pen and paper after all! With advances in the Livescribe pen and the expected release of their Desktop SDK this year, tracking you daily stats in HealthVault may very well end up as simple as the pen and paper you're using today.
So, which usability method do you see driving the future? In 2 years, 3 years, 5 years, do you expect to be using a pen, your voice, your phone to track medical information? Or maybe all of the above?
About the Author
Didier Thizy has been a software professional for 13 years, holding a variety of positions in Software R&D and Product Management.
At Macadamian, Didier is Macadamian's VP Consulting, responsible for a cross-functional unit of design and development consultants specializing in healthcare software. His focus areas include healthcare software, usability of complex systems, and modern mobile and web technologies.
Didier is an active member of HIMSS, the Toronto Product Management Association, Silicon Valley Product Management Association, and the Ottawa OCRI association for technology.
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