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Ergonomics Product Development of a Mobile Workstation for Health Care

Risto Toivonen, Dong-Shik Choi, and Nina Nevala

Journal of Usability Studies, Volume 7, Issue 1, November 2011, pp. 40 - 50

Article Contents


Introduction

Physicians and nurses are highly mobile in their daily hospital routine, moving frequently between wards, outpatient clinics, diagnostic and therapeutic departments, conference rooms, and operating theaters (Ammenwerth, Buchauer, Bludau, & Haux, 2000). Health care professionals need to request and enter information at different locations, for example, on their daily ward round (Reuss, Menozzi, Büchi, Koller, & Krueger, 2004). Thus mobile technology is becoming more important in modern health care. Mobile information and communication systems in clinical routine have the potential to greatly improve communication, facilitate information access, eliminate double documentation, and increase the quality of patient care in the long run when an appropriate infrastructure is available (Ammenwerth et al., 2000; Buchauer, Werner, & Haux, 1998).

The utilization of mobile technology increases treatment and diagnostic capabilities, but it also increases the complexity of health care (Liljegren, 2006). Mobile devices may play an important role in convincing health care staff to use and handle the volume and complexity of clinical data by simplifying the integration of mobile devices into existing medical information systems (Karahoca, Bayraktar, Tatoglu, & Karahoca, 2010). However, physicians have clear access preferences when they interact with patient records during their daily rounds (Reuss et al., 2004). Increasingly health care policy and decision makers are demanding evidence to justify investments in health information systems (Kushniruk & Patel, 2004). 

Various types of mobile devices are in use in health care. Personal digital assistants (PDAs), tablet PCs, and laptops installed on mobile workstations are the devices most commonly mentioned in the studies. Each of these devices clearly has strengths and weaknesses, which should be taken into account when a decision is made about the method appropriate for helping physicians and nurses interact with a number of electrical information systems during daily routines. User preferences for these kinds of devices and the situations under which different devices would be used have been studied in several papers (Andersen Lindgaard, Prgomet, Creswick, & Westbrook, 2009).

Some studies have commented about the usability of mobile workstations, but even then the focus was either on the information systems used by the mobile devices, the usability of the user interfaces of the system, or the physical properties of the computers per se (Andersen et al., 2009). However, a need for mobile workstations with better usability and ergonomics for health care workers was reported in these same studies. The studies addressed questions about the size of workstations, the ease of operation, and the mobility of the workstation (Junglas, Abraham, & Ives, 2009), each of which is an important design factor that affects the usability and ergonomics of a product.

In this paper we have used the terms usability and ergonomics side by side. According to Pheasant (1996), the objective of ergonomics is to achieve the best possible match between a product and its users in the context of the work task to be performed. On the other hand, the SFS-EN ISO 9241-11 (1998) standard states that usability is the extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction in a specified context of use. Generally speaking, considering both usability and ergonomics during the development of a medical device, and when medical technology is purchased at hospitals, is considered to be increasingly important (Liljegren & Osvalder, 2004; Martin, Norris, Murphy, & Crowe, 2008).

The aim of this study was to test the ergonomics and usability of a mobile workstation prototype in real work situations. As this study was conducted as a part of a product development process, an additional objective was to determine the most important ergonomic design factors that need to be taken into account in the final and future mobile workstation version. In this study neither the usability of the computer user interface nor the usability of the electronic patient information system was included. To be able to fully utilize a mobile workstation in a hospital environment requires that both the work processes and the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) infrastructure have been adapted for this new medical practice. In this study we wanted to investigate the use of the mobile workstation in normal work situations and to collect user experience on the new mobile workstation model, not the new way of working as such. Thus we selected users who already had some experience with mobile workstations.

 

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