At the outset, an e-services project in the health care context in many ways seemed an uncomfortable fit. Tasked with the role of eliminating distraction for the nurse who is at the centre of communications in this setting, this would be no easy solution. Answerable to doctors, patients and relatives, which on top of the demands of their own role, the nurse is pulled in all directions at any point in time. Unsurprisingly, the initial concept phase threw up two issues. One, the true value of the e-solution in an environment that necessitates human contact. Two, the fact that the addition of further devices is likely to add to the already meta distractions. Appreciably, cost saving was likely to be a top priority, but I couldn't help wonder if this measure, which undoubtedly saves money in the short term, doesn't create a greater cost outlay in the longterm.
Research literature exploring distraction in other contexts unearthed, not technological solutions, but self-management practises. As you might expect in the era of gagetitis, there is a corresponding epidemic of distraction. In all kinds of work environments and roles, from engineers to pilots, a compulsory 'quiet time' (a dedicated period of time to work without distractions: emails, phone calls, alerts, etc) were being implemented to create periods of focused work. This measure was found to increase productivity and output. This helped our team understand the optimal solution - to create a digital solution that could indicate which nurses were available and could be disturbed, and those who could not.
The unholy alliance, however was an undercurrent throughout our investigation, in an industry where the human element is answering not one direct need, but a thousand indirect ones owing to the nature of this need. When the relative asks the nurse the time the doctor or consultant is due, they aren't merely asking for the specific time, but for a thousand reassurances that can only be provided through human contact. They are asking for presence and attention in the face of crisis and stress. They are creating downtime to escape fear and the present; all healthy and necessary reactions to make it through all the stages asked of them in those moments. Providing the same information via a tablet that a relative can pick up and scan isn't answering that need. It's answering a question and between the two lies a world.
Everywhere more and more self service machines are cropping up eliminating the human element. An element that can never be replaced and the danger of doing so is untold. It will certainly only create more problems from the consumer perspective and experience. Facebook hasn't replaced a human conversation and there is no solution to addressing that need, beyond addressing that need. And as our cyberspace gets more and more crowded with notifications and alerts, it is unlikely we will become less distracted and more disciplined, the opposite is true. There are limitations to evoking a digital response that makes us feel cared for and human. As time moves forward, I grow increasingly sure that the answer doesn't always lie in an app, and that despite it being a time-friendly solution that can be developed in nano-time for the purposes of a few weeks project work, it doesn’t always answer the problem. At the heart of most services is human contact, the greatest, most memorable and impactful touchpoint. Ultimately, how we feel has an impact in terms of how we relate to the business's we are dealing with. There is something to be said for putting the human back into business and the integrity back into relations. And I'm willing to bet that the pay off will be significant.