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Reflections from the Allscripts Partner Conference

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Presenting on Design and Research
Presenting on Design and Research

Chuck, Jason and I just returned from a few days in Atlanta, where we had the great pleasure to listen, speak, and meet with the attendees of Allscripts’ Developer Program Conference. This is a conference for partners building on Allscripts open platform, a platform that differentiates them from competitive EMR providers, in that they’re leveraging the ingenuity and inspiration from other entrepreneurs to make the user experience better. And by “user” here, we mean care providers, and by “better” we mean healthier — sometimes we even mean “alive”.

Chuck and Jason caffeinating for office hours
Chuck and Jason caffeinating for office hours
Someone in this photo will conduct their first user research session within 24 hours of hearing our presentation!
Someone in this photo will conduct their first user research session within 24 hours of hearing our presentation!

When I was putting together my talk, I had been concerned about referencing the Medium article How Bad UX Killed Jenny, thinking they’d heard this all before and would just roll their eyes at my being dramatic, that wasn’t at all the case. I saw a lot of enthusiasm and purpose at the conference — while there is obviously plenty of opportunity in the health care industry, I didn’t see any cynicism. Rather I was impressed that these Marketers, CEOs and Developers were still talking about how they could make a positive impact on people’s lives.

No designers (besides us) were in attendance, but the topic of design came up early. The word “design” was first uttered by an M.D. and regulatory expert, Jacob Reider, the Chief Medical Officer for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT. He had a slide from Stephen Anderson (I think?):

Stephen Anderson slide?

It’s always better if someone besides a designer can start the conversation about the importance of our work, so that we aren’t mistaken to be talking about the importance of our selves(!) The inclusion of this slide was great news for us, and made it much easier to talk about what product design really is, how research fits in, and send out a call to arms to get these men and women out there conducting primary research today.

To that end, we talked about the difference between interaction and visual design (the latter still being too widely considered all that product design consists of), feed-foward design as opposed to feed-back design, and a toolkit for them to conduct their own research sessions, including this fabulous Pocket Protocol that, when printed, literally fits in a pocket, and that provides general questions that could be asked in nearly any interview or usability study.

Jason Chats with the Guys from Avhana Health
Jason chatting with the guys from Avhana Health about their product
Chuck Pitching In at Office Hours
Chuck pitching in at office hours
Audrey Channels Her Inner M.D.
Audrey channeling her inner M.D.

After the talk, we had “office hours”, where we met individually with 12 different companies to look at their UIs and talk about challenges or ways they could improve. We had a lot more questions after the talk about pragmatic tools for quick-and-dirty primary research, which I wanted to share and answer here as well:

How can we possibly recruit for 5 participants every week or two? You have no idea how hard it is to nail these people down, especially doctors!

I do actually know how hard it is, since we’ve conducted research with physicians ourselves. It’s tricky, but it’s not only possible, it’s critical. A few things to try:

  1. If you already have a few medical care providers that you talk to occasionally, try formalizing a brief, convenient, regular meeting with participants once every two weeks, so that you don’t have to ping them with separate asks. Presumably you’ll have something to show them every time (prototyping, right?), and if you don’t, show them a competitor! Also, understand when you’re recruiting what motivates your participant. Sometimes it’s money, sometimes it’s impacting a product (which will in turn impact lots of other health care providers and patients), sometimes it’s curiosity. Responding to that particular motivation, whether it’s with pay, or showing them how you changed the UI based on your last findings, or letting them see how you’re building the product, will go a long way towards getting them back.
  2. Think about what tasks you can test with “civilians”. If it’s scanning a list of names for a particular patient, understanding what’s most important in a to-do list, or filtering a list by date, you can learn a lot from someone you’re waiting at an airport gate or at the DMV with.
  3. Use alternative tools like, or professional recruiters to pull in participants for you.
  4. Get booth space at a conference where attendees are medical professionals and grab folks in this setting to participate in quick (15- or 20-minute) research sessions. We’ve done this with a fair bit of success, if the thank-you gift is appropriate to the chunk of time, because people aren’t fitting you in to their normal busy schedules.

When you say “prototype”, what exactly do you mean?

I cannot write it better than Marty Cagan’s excellent article on flavors of prototypes. In terms of tools, we have great luck, depending on what flavor the prototype is, with InVision and AngularJS (and both), as well as for mobile, but there are lots and lots out there, with more coming out every day.

What other tools do I need?

Grab our Pocket Protocol, and for a super-lightweight test, you can use WebEx or whatever your remote meeting tool is, with the video camera on to record pretty accessible picture-in-picture sessions.

Maybe Depends on the Size of Your Pocket…
Maybe Depends on the Size of Your Pocket…

Nothing more complicated than something to test, a list of good questions, and a recording device is necessary.

Thanks to Allscripts for inviting us, and to the ADPs for the inspiration. We are looking forward to 2016!

– Audrey, Chuck and Jason


Audrey Crane

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