The following is a guest post by Francis Beaudet co-founder of Macadamian
The catchphrase for Microsoft’s new design language for Windows 8 and mobile devices, Metro, is ‘content over chrome.’ In other words, the application’s focus on user’s needs and goals is more important than UI features like flashy buttons and complex menus.
Metro helps teams develop focused, specific, and truly differentiated apps centered on a single ‘Best At’ statement that defines the area in which the app will dominate its category. What is the one thing your application is best at, and then creating a small Metro that is the best at helping the user accomplish that thing?
The challenge is that large healthcare software systems including Electronic Health Records (EHRs) do a lot of things. EHR software helps doctors to do charting, manage patient encounters, e-prescription, process dictation, maintain their task lists, reminders and messaging, and store all patient demographics, records and information securely. Many EHRs include practice management features that allow administrators to run the practice, including scheduling, insurance claims, staffing, etc.
So how are you supposed to port or create a multi-function EHR on Windows 8, particularly when Windows 8 is designed for focused and concise Metro applications? What value does Windows 8 bring to EHRs?
Turns out it could bring quite a lot, if you think about it the right way…
Metro is not Windows 8. Metro and Windows 8 are connected, but they aren’t the same thing. You don’t need to use Metro to create a Windows 8 program. Your team can create Windows 8 software without using Metro, so your desktop application is still the hub of your Enterprise solution.
Even if you don’t transform your Enterprise program into a Metro product, you might want to use Metro as an extension to your product offering. In other words, you keep your desktop application, but add a Metro app, or a stable of them, on the side.
For example, if your team works on a mobile product that supports nurses or ambulatory care clinic teams, you might consider using Metro to create a mobile solution that supports managers who walk the floor. It could show them efficiency stats, help them validate metrics, and give them the tools to take notes. The app could relay the information directly to the desktop product back in the office. What you end up with is a valuable add-on for mobile devices that uses Metro to its best advantage.
Metro is about content. Often, Enterprise programs are task-focused, concentrating on large menus of things users can do. Metro apps, on the other hand, are more likely to help users find, view, and manipulate content.
Enterprise solutions give users big, powerful menus of tasks they can accomplish. You won’t find that in a Metro program. In Metro, users use the navigation to find the content that is relevant to them at the moment and then perform a few actions on it.
Software teams working on feature-rich Enterprise products might find this difference to be one of the hardest things to overcome. It’s a significant shift in thinking that could lead you to believe that Metro isn’t a good fit for an Enterprise application. A better solution is to consider adding a Metro app, or a suite of them, to your Windows 8 product.
For example, for a hospital, a combined a nursing-focused EHR solution might handle everything from tracking COWs and portable tablets to managing the nurses’ shift schedule. You could maintain the full application for Windows 8. In addition, you could augment this application with a suite of new Metro applications, like a charting app that allows nurses to quickly look up patient charts while doing rounds. The emphasis isn’t on a multitude of tasks and actions that a user can perform. It’s about finding useful content such as a patient’s medication list — and performing an action — confirming all medications were taken during the round.
Metro focuses on one category of user. Large, feature-rich EHR programs tend to lend themselves very well to use by multiple user personas. The same program used by admissions might also be used by the billing team and community care.
Metro development focuses on one user persona and the way in which those users, specifically, will engage with the app. With your Metro program, your team wants to focus on one category of users, in one context, to accomplish no more than 2-3 interrelated tasks.
So what does that mean for powerful EHR systems that serve numerous different types of users?
Software teams working on EHR solutions will have to figure out what, if they can’t do a straight-up port of their application with Metro, do they want to do? What do they specifically want to accomplish — what tool do they want to give to what user in what environment?
Let’s say your EHR product is a fully customizable time-tracking program that can serve the needs of any clinical setting — from a nationwide hospital network with a thousand specialists in ten cities, to a small group of ambulatory clinics who staff mainly nurses who bill on thirty regular patients. That probably won’t work the way you want it to for a Metro app.
So maybe that would look like one mobile app to let the physicians report their hours from their Windows mobile devices while away from their desks, and another that lets administrative team leaders check hours reported by their clinical team members while working from home.
Metro is about context. A Metro product is about the context in which the user engages with the application. Metro is used first and foremost for mobile devices. That means the user will have distractions from the outside world — they won’t be specifically at their desk, concentrating on what they have to accomplish. There might be low ambient light levels and other distractions that development teams need to take into account.
Metro might also represent an opportunity for your team to extend the existing context of use for your software by making it available for another user group, or for an existing user group to use it in a new context. For example, for an EHR application, you could create a Metro program to give to waiting patients for them to confirm the details of their records before they see a doctor or nurse. This takes your existing content and repurposes it for a new context — a waiting room — and a new category of users — patients themselves.
Putting it all together
Some companies are looking at Metro and wondering if Microsoft has left large-scale EHRs out of the Metro equation. But EHR developers can harness Metro to create software that emphasize content, laser-focus on user groups, and extend their product offering into new contexts. These principles will let EHR companies add Metro to their development arsenal for powerful results.
Macadamian is a global leader in software product creation providing a complete range of product strategy, user experience design and software engineering services to clients around the world, including healthcare industry leaders like Elsevier, MED3OOO, Cardinal Health and Telus Health. Macadamian has a track record of helping clients create successful products on a variety of mobile, web and desktop platforms. To learn more about Macadamian, visit: www.macadamian.com