15 Aug 19

I’ve been wanting to share my thoughts around this for a while but this week has proved the perfect reminder to do so.

Let me introduce, Marie

My wife, Marie, has just started a new job for the NHS. She is a children’s therapy assistant – helping to deliver physio and speech & language programmes to children referred to the service. A challenging, yet rewarding role, Marie is part of a wider team. Really, though, what I am writing here applies to all sorts of health-related roles (and many other public sector ones too).

Marie is into week 4 of the new job and already completed various induction courses around the NHS, health and safety and good practice. This week, though, she has been on a 2 day (2 full days) systems training course. This training gives the attendee all the knowledge they need to use the data/client management system the team has adopted.

Now, as a company developing applications to manage client data, we know only too well how important it is to keep records of everything done. This data is used to share knowledge within a team, report on progress and at a high level can be used to shape spending budgets. Systems are vital in today’s world to track EVERYTHING. I don’t disagree with their necessity. Here is my key problem with where we are at…

The Problem

Marie is amazing at her job (well, she will be once bedded in!) – she has a natural ability to care for people, motivate them, engage with them and ensure the service her team deliver, makes a difference. Like Marie, there are thousands of people delivering an amazing service – making a difference to people. There are so many people benefitting from the delivery of such support services and so many more on waiting lists. Health teams are stretched to the limit. The value they bring is in the delivery of the service they are trained to do. The value for an organisation employing Marie, and so many others, is not only the quality of the service delivered, but the data gathered and being able to report on it. This is where systems come in. Every patient/client needs to be recorded in a system. Each visit logged, actions recorded, assessment data entered and appointments scheduled.

Marie is not a “tech-head” though, she hates computers and does not enjoy using them. That’s not to say she is tech-averse. Marie has a smartphone and uses it for messaging, social media (a lot!), photography, diary management, navigation, emails. She also uses a computer for document writing and email. I should also mention she is a very “experienced” online shopper! So with that lot, particularly the last one, Marie is well versed with common IT practices – form filling out, searching, calendar entries, emailing. From what she has said about people on her course this week, and her colleagues, many are the same. For them using a “system” is the worst aspect of their job role.

Surely 2 days training on something points to its lack of usability?

Here comes the key point I am trying to make… Why, oh why, does it take 2 days to train people on how to use a system. In the most part, that system will be used by most people to find records and add data to them – for example writing up notes from a visit with a client/patient, arranging an appointment, referencing old notes about a client. How can a system have become so unusable, complex and unwieldy that it needs regular, 2 day training courses to be put on for people. There is a cost to the organisation for the training, no doubt run on a regular basis. I daresay the same system is being used by a host of other organisations in the country as its deemed to be “best of breed”. So similar training courses are no doubt running all over the country. A host of valuable employees are spending 2 days at a time on this course. This course is delivered by people who fail to understand the ability of the attendees and the needs they will have as users. Marie and others come away confused, bewildered and even more anxious about using said system within their day to day role. Marie’s messages to me during the course indicate this… she is literally pulling her hair out!

Marie can quite happily search an online clothing shop, add items to her basket, complete forms to “checkout” and receive updates about her order. In fact she is very, very good at this 😉 She can also contact support to seek assistance with respect to her orders. She does not need to attend a 2 day training course to achieve this.

So, in the work environment, Marie’s key goals will be to search for clients, add detail to their record (form completion) and save it. This is not rocket science and not dissimilar to her activity online shopping. But, the obstacles in her way at work include (and not limited to):

  • Poor taxonomy (labelling of menu items, options make no sense in real world english)
  • Confusing interfaces, complex in nature and with no clear guidance
  • No personalisation or understanding of the person logged in and what they are likely to need from the system
  • Slow, time consuming workflows to achieve simple tasks

A better way

Most of us learn best by “having a go”. Often we’ll be reassured if we can be demonstrated how to do a process before we do it. But once we have completed it a couple of times, we are ok. This could and should all happen within the system, for example:

  • Onboarding – provide an online tour of the system when a user first logs in
  • Visual Help – provide video demos available in context of the area of the system you are in can show people what they should be doing on that page.
  • Helpful labelling, written in plain english as if its a human talking to them – not development talk.
  • Clear signposting of what a user needs to do next, based on that user’s needs
  • Simple, uncluttered interfaces
  • Use of familiar interface patterns so its not alien to a user’s general device usage (away from work)
  • Tailored Interfaces that adjust for a user’s role – relevance for what they need to do in their capacity

All of this means users should not even need training. Instead, have a 1-2 hour engagement workshop with employees where the system is introduced as part of a wider piece about the importance of data collection. Users should leave with no anxiousness about a new system. They should feel confident that they cannot “break” it.

Way before all of this though…

Before all of this, real users should be engaged with to ensure a system is designed around their needs. Too often “systems” are purchased at a senior level and access issued to teams to use. This procurement of the system is based on factors that don’t include usability and efficiency for end users. Bottom line is if Marie and her colleagues can minimise the time spent on the system they use to manage client data, then they have more time to spend with clients/patients – that’s more capacity to deliver the great service they offer. Right now, too much of their time is spent having to navigate awful systems, applications and tools. And then on top of that you have the time taken out to attend poorly delivered training courses on how to use these monolithic, complicated systems… it’s all wrong.

Hope on the horizon?

I really hope in the world of digital transformation, things will change and improve. Marie says the system she has just been trained on is being replaced in about 3 months… we could hope that will be a massive improvement…. But taking off my optimistic hat for a minute, I daresay it will lead to more “training” and just a different unusable, complicated, slow system.

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