Good Design, Poor Design

Design in Everyday Healthcare - Opportunities for InnovationWe see them every day… Or do we? All around us, in every nook and cranny of healthcare, there are opportunities for improvement and opportunities for outright innovation.

It may not be a new device, gadget or widget, however. More likely, it will come in the form of a simple design element. And there’s no one better than you to bring it about. After all, you live it every day.

The first step is to begin looking for things (and processes) in your day-to-day that are designed well.

For example, I was in the L&D suite while my wife was delivering my sixth child. Now, she wasn’t too thrilled about it, but when it’s your sixth child and you’re not the one in labor, you begin to notice things you might not have noticed before. When I was asked to help reposition the bed, I had to unlock it, and I noticed the foot pedal. Yeah, a foot pedal.

Here’s what I saw:

Example of Good Design - Hospital Bed Foot Pedal
To some, this is just a foot pedal. We stomp on them all of the time in the hospital, but we usually only notice them when they don’t work.

Well, this one seemed pretty elegant to me for the following reasons:

  1. It can never be put on upside when manufacturing it,
  2. Green means “go”,
  3. Red/orange means “stop/brake”,
  4. No matter how it is assembled green is on the right,
  5. It has a grip-type surface, yet it can be cleaned.

Appreciating good design when you see it will accomplish a few things. (a) You will begin to see things from a fresh perspective. Unconscious competence, being on autopilot, being in a groove, or whatever you want to call it, has its place. But taking a moment to “be present” in any one moment of your day can be quite refreshing. (b) When the time comes to invest in new equipment or to change a process or to edit a form, these successful design elements you’ve noticed around you will inform your discussions and choices for others things in the workplace. Your contribution to that committee you’ve been on will have impacted scores of people. (c) You will begin to ask yourself, “How can we make this better?” And from there, the possibilities are endless.

OK, but what happens when you come upon something that was designed poorly? Well, instead of just accepting it, or worse, complaining about it, why not fix it? Improve it? Better it?

The impact of doing so will go far beyond just you. It might prevent medical errors… It might save time… It might save money… Hey, it might even earn you some money, depending on what it is. At worst, you have contributed to making the world we live and work and heal in a little better.

Take this elevator in a hospital parking garage, for example. When I approached it, I pushed the button and waited for the elevator, like anyone would have. Seconds later a (very) loud voice startled me as it came through the speakers, “Is everything ok?”

Well, it turns out that I hit the Emergency Call button.

What’s worse? I’ve done it more than once over the past few years of visiting this hospital.

Now, I’m a semi-intelligent life form (on most days). Why did this happen?

Let’s have a look:

Example of Poor Design - Hospital Parking Elevator
The fact is, the error was mine. Perhaps I should have read the signs. Perhaps I should have paid closer attention to what I was doing.

True. But the next time you are waiting for an elevator, pay close attention to what people do when they first approach it. Some will be looking at their phones, some engaged in conversation, and some a tad flustered with navigating the institution. No one reads the signs. No one pays exquisite attention to the task of pushing an elevator button.

Elegant design would account for this human element.

Here are some of the components you may notice from the elevator in the photo.

  1. The Emergency Call button and the elevator button are at the exact same height, just on opposite sides of the doors.
  2. The Emergency Call button is closer to the elevator door than the elevator button.
  3. The buttons themselves offer no visual or tactile distinctions – one is plain metallic & the other is plain metallic with a dot in the center
  4. The elevator button (not the emergency button) has an image of flames above it.
  5. The parking level is color coded (red, or reddish) the same as the emergency call button paint.

I wonder how many times a day security is accidentally called simply because of the design of these elevator buttons… This is an opportunity… for applying a simple fix to something that inconveniences patrons and potentially pulls security away from important functions.

Find examples in your day-to-day and share them with us. Send your examples of good design and poor design to my email ed.tori [at] mi2 [dot] org. Or share them with us on Twitter (@MI2innovation).

Learn more about the MedStar Institute for Innovation’s efforts to bring good design to all aspects of healthcare and health innovations:

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