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When HIT "Progress" Lacks Compassion, Is It Really Progress?

April 16, 2013
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I'm proud of the fact that I work in the Healthcare IT industry - an industry focused on improved healthcare experiences and outcomes for all.  But yesterday I witnessed a "step forward" in the name of HIT that was such a step back that when asked, I was too embarrassed to confess what I did for a living.  Here's what happened:

I had scheduled some routine blood work, and so headed into the hospital lab to get it done.  The first time I used this lab I remember thinking that it reminded me of a old-fashioned bakery, because the check-in procedure involved taking a plastic disk with a number, waiting for your number to be called, and then getting checked in by a lab employee behind the sliding glass window.  Amusingly low-tech, but it seemed to work.  Upon arriving yesterday, however, the bakery numbers were gone, and in their place was a sign, "Please check in on the computer and have a seat.  If you need assistance we can help you at the window.  Thank you!"  Looking around, I saw a computer up by the registration area, and quickly filled out my name, birthdate, and whether or not my test needed to be "STAT" (No).  Then I used the provided hand sanitizer and sat down to wait my turn, thinking that this was quite an improvement, and good for Tulsa for moving right along.  

But that satisfaction at perceived progress was very short-lived, as I watched patient after patient struggle with the new system.  Those who found the sign and sought help were given step-by-step verbal instructions from behind the sliding glass window, but words like "cursor" and "submit" and even "mouse" were foreign to the majority of the clientele, who happened to be elderly.  At one point, I jumped up to help a very dignified older woman, who, standing there humiliated with the mouse in her shaking hand, was embarrassed to admit she couldn't quite decipher their instructions. Grateful for my help, she then whispered her birthdate in my ear so that the entire waiting room wouldn't know her age, because it was "none of their damn business."  I couldn't have agreed with her more, and when she asked me if I was "a computer person," I had no motivation to share that I was actually in Healthcare IT, because I was embarrassed for her, and so disappointed in the lack of compassion shown by the person or persons who made this decision.

Funny thing was, when I asked a lab employee how the new system was working, she said, "We hate it.  It takes us longer than the old system because we have to either double check the entry, or explain how to use the computer.  It's taking us twice as long and we're all fit to be tied."  I certainly can understand the theory behind this "improvement," but imposing humiliation upon your most vulnerable customers is not progress.  And it surely isn't going help with staff retention, which should always be considered when making a substantive change.  Eventually if enough people speak up, I'm hoping they will provide a more compassionate option for those who are not comfortable with a DIY approach.  Until then, if you ask me (they didn't), I vote for going back to the bakery method.  At least then we'll know when it's our turn to be served.