Usability that saves lives - The Resus:Station

The BBC reports that a new cardiac response trolley design is saving patient lives: A team of designers at the Helen Hamlyn Centre (part of London's Royal College of Art) designed many improvements to the hospital trolleys that are used to carry equipment for emergency responses to heart attacks.

It seems that hospitals typically use trolleys that resemble the cabinets in a car-enthusiast's garage:

Typical_response_trolley

(graphic taken from www.bristolmaid.com - the company that now produces the new Resus:Station)

The newly designed Resus:Station features many improvements.

  • It splits into three sections to allow equipment to be close to the doctors and nurses who need it -- and available in the order they require.
  • All equipment is visible without the need to open drawers. There's a place for everything and everything in its place. (So doctors don't waste time looking for stuff, and hospitals can more easily ensure that the trolleys are always fully stocked)
  • It has an advanced touch-screen guide that monitors and records the actions of the medical team -- so that they can subsequently get feedback to help improve performance.

It looks like this:

Resus_station_2

(This photo was copied from http://www.britishdesigninnovation.org/index.php?page=newsservice/view&news_id=5049)

Unfortunately, a photo doesn't do it justice. Take a look at this video, which shows how the trolley separates and how the monitor works. Do you see how the trolley issues a "low stock" or "expired" warning if equipment has been used or if drugs pass their expiry dates?

How did the design team achieve such a breakthrough in design? Fortunately for us, the designed methodologies are all described in the research paper that Jonathan West published. Crucially, the team started out by interviewing resuscitation personel and observing real-life resuscitation procedures:

The resuscitation procedures were initially explored through an extensive literature search. This was then expanded through input from practising resuscitation personnel. These clinicians were part of the collaborative team from the outset, and it was therefore ensured that their input was insightful and relevant. This is an important distinction from the ‘cold’ user input also used in this project (e.g. other resuscitation officers from different hospitals not part of the team from the start).
An Advanced Life Support (ALS) course was attended and documented through video to observe how clinicians learn resuscitation, and videos of actual arrests were also analysed. Crucially, the designers were able to observe actual resuscitation attempts on a hospital ward.

There's so much to learn from this story. In particular, I noted the importance of:

(1) Observing and interviewing real users in real-life situations where the product is used

(2) Exposing vital equipment to be visible without the need to explore

(3) Prioritizing the location of essential equipment

Is it necessary to do this even when you’re designing for expert users who already “know the ropes” -- for example, people who regularly use your Web site or your products?

Yes it is.