Designing for the human element

by Elizabeth Meehan of coffeenosugar

The human element has a value beyond what we can imagine or account for. This is especially true in environments such as the hospital in a way that I discovered through an e-services project, which sought to minimise the disruptions of the nurse (who is at the focal point of communications in the hospital setting).

Answerable to doctors, patients and relatives, on top of the demands of their own role, the nurse is often pulled in all directions at any point in time, so unsurprisingly, my team found ourselves quickly grappling with two issues; the true value of the e-solution in an instance that necessitates human contact, and the fact that the addition of further devices is likely to add to the already existing distractions. Cost saving naturally is a top priority here, but I couldn’t help but wonder if this measure, which may save money in the short term, wouldn’t create a greater cost outlay in the longterm, and not just for this industry but other industries too. Or that there’s a point of e-solution saturation, which outweighs the gain. That the distraction only adds to the demands.

Nevertheless, with this in mind, we carried on. We conducted blue sky research and explored how distraction is handled in other contexts and industries and found, not technological solutions, but self-management practises. The hunch was right, in the era of gagetitis, there is a corresponding epidemic of distraction. In all kinds of work environments and roles, from engineers to pilots, a compulsory ‘quiet time’ (a dedicated period of time to work without emails, phone calls, alerts, etc) was being implemented to create periods of time free of distraction. This measure was found to increase productivity and output. The absence of the regular technological appendages seemed to jolt us back into a place of self reliance and perhaps even self discipline. Eradicating the secondary noise prompted a space to create. 

This unholy alliance of technology and healthcare at the nurse level, however is doubly questionable in an industry where the human element is answering not one direct need, but a thousand indirect ones owing to the nature of the service. As just one example, when the relative asks the nurse the time the doctor / consultant is due, they aren’t merely asking for the specific time, but for a thousand reassurances that can only be provided through human contact. They are asking for presence and attention in the face of crisis and stress. They are creating downtime to escape fear and the moment; all healthy and necessary reactions to cope with the stages asked of them at that time. Providing the same information via a tablet that a relative can pick up and scan isn’t answering that need. It’s answering a simple question and between the two lies a murky world, but a world no less. Everywhere more and more technological options are cropping up eliminating the human element. An element that can never be replaced, and the cost of doing so in certain industries in particular is untold.

Facebook hasn’t replaced a human conversation and there is no solution to addressing that need, beyond addressing that need. Human beings are emotional beings, and there are limitations to evoking a response that makes us feel cared for that doesn’t involve contact with our fellow humans. As time moves forward, I grow increasingly convinced that the answer isn’t always in an app, and that despite it being a time-friendly solution that can be developed in nano-time for the purposes of a few days work, the real world presents an entirely different reality. At the heart of services is human contact; the greatest, most memorable and impactful touchpoint. And how we feel, post-service, equals the stuff of conversion into a positive or negative outcome for a business. I’m willing to bet that the pay off will be significant.