The User Experience of a Local Hospital

Jun 9, 2009

A short time ago, a co-worker and I were curious about the medical system and what we were getting for the huge chunk of the GDP (18%) we are paying as a society. So we went to a local hospital with the deceptively simple task of finding information about cancer support groups, since we both had family members that were dealing with advanced forms of cancer. We went following our work day, at around 6pm. My co-worker figured it would be an easy task, that we would find a wall full of flyers for support groups of all kinds as soon as we arrived at the front desk. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out that way.

But our difficulties started long before that, having taken separate cars, we had decided we would meet in front of the main entrance. The only problem was that there was no parking anywhere near the main entrance, except for staff parking of course. In fact, the staff had a nice, apparently new, four story parking garage directly adjacent to the main entrance. The only patient parking lot was tucked away in the back. Difficult to find, it was a surface lot that seemed ill-suited to meet the demands of the hospital. The lot was quite full and I had to search for a while before I could find a place to park. After parking, I made my way to the nearest entrance, which was not the main entrance. This disparity in parking arrangements seemed to fly in the face of everything I knew about user experience, which would favor maximizing customer access.

After meeting with my colleague, who was just as confused about the parking arrangement as I was, we looked for pamphlets or bulletin boards where we would expect to find information about support groups, unfortunately we could find nothing. Instead, we made our way to the front desk, which was closed. A sign on the table told us to check with admitting, so we did. When we asked the man at the admitting desk about support groups, he gave us a look like he had no idea what we were talking about. Indeed, it became apparent that he did not, because he asked us “Support groups? What do you mean?” We started to explain what we were looking for but before we could get into it, he told us that we should check with nurse staffing and gave us some vague directions.

Continuing our hunt, we wound our way through the labyrinthine hospital corridors until we found the nurses staffing office. Inside we found a very friendly and helpful pair of nurses that seemed intent on finding us what we needed. Although I was thankful for their assistance, I was also taken aback by their work environment. Their tiny office was divided into two workspaces by cubicle walls. Exposed wires hung from the ceiling and prominent, unrepaired holes in the walls suggested that something large had hung on the wall at some time in the past. Unfortunately, the nurses did not know where we could get information about support groups, they thought that the social services office would have what we needed, but they couldn’t remember where the social services office was located. After making a couple calls, one of the nurses set out with us to the third floor, where the social services office sat locked, all of its staffing having left for the day. We rifled through some pamphlets outside of the office, but realized none of it was for support groups, so the nurse pulled out a key and opened the office doors and led us inside.

The state of the office was shocking to me. Boxes were piled high in every corner, full of papers whose contents I couldn’t imagine. I thought about how difficult it would be to locate a specific record in all of the mess and found myself thankful for databases, network hard drives and enterprise wikis. Mysterious gadgets collected dust piled in random spaces and a closet was hung with old jackets that looked like they hadn’t been disturbed since 1985. The nurse searched gamely through the office before she came up blank, not just for cancer support groups, but for any support group at all. She called an oncology social worker at home and left a message and also gave us a phone number, but we had no choice but to abort our search. After approximately an hour and a half of searching, we had come up with nothing.

The experience was quite edifying. Although it was a single experience at a single hospital, it was shocking to see how inefficient and disorganized the medical system had become and how little thought went into providing hospital visitors with a positive experience. I know now just how much growth is possible in the medical industry.

Demetrius Madrigal