User-centric design lightens nurses’ workload

October 18, 2022

Read time 3 min

Instead of clumsy software, nurses and receptionists deserve reliable and modern tools.


Years ago, I was observing the work of customer service personnel at a call center. The phones were ringing, and the requests flooded in as the personnel tried to navigate five separate systems while serving the customers. I wrote down the cases and documented how the personnel used their systems. The next time we met, I showed them the wireframes I had drawn based on their work. They looked at me suspiciously and wondered if the system could be that fluent. “It would be helpful to see the customers’ previous call there”, said one of them, pointing to my sketches. “Then the system will show it to you”, I replied, adding the missing piece of the information. “And we’ll iterate it until it’s perfect for you.”  I still remember how her eyes lit up.

Fast forward to today: Nurses, receptionists, and other health center staff are still stuck with inadequate and inappropriate software systems. According to our latest survey, nurses waste more than an hour daily using slow, error-prone, and poorly designed software that does not support them in their everyday work. For example, when health care personnel transfer patients to other health centers or hospitals – a surprisingly essential part of their work – they must check multiple mediums to find correct patient information, including phone, email and even fax. Instead, they should have a system with only one view, showing all the incoming and outgoing patients, with detailed information on each of them.

At worst, nurses are personally responsible for the poor software. In 2019, a nurse was sentenced to fines for the death of a patient in Finland. Despite several nurses having explored the pump and read the manual, they had missed the unit selector hidden in the user interface of the medicine pump, leading to patients getting 20 doses of painkillers. The nurse was found guilty, even if the team that had designed the user interface was actually responsible for the mistake. 

What has led to a situation this bad? For example, the main EMRs (electronic medical records) used in Finland have been designed mainly for gathering data. They support the use cases of doctors, but as it happens, nurses are not that well catered for. There are approximately 3,5 nurses per doctor, so the nurses’ repeatedly occurring use cases should be prioritized over the more rare ones of the doctors. Over time, the EMRs have grown into enormous, clumsy software built with old technologies and costly to develop further. Compared to almost any other profession, nurses’ working tools are being developed far behind.

User-centric design is a part of the solution. Nurses and receptionists deserve tools based on their actual needs. Furthermore, the attitudes must change: The fluency of nurses’ workflow is just as essential as that of the doctors. Instead of using systems that lead to wasted time and additional burden, nurses need modern, reliable software that saves their precious working hours on what they should be able to focus on – treating and instructing patients.

Such software makes the nurse’s eyes light up.


We recently surveyed nurses across Europe to ask about their organizations’ IT systems. Read the whole report here.

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