All posts by Anne McLaughlin

Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC

Team Training

Enjoy this video of expert team performance. I note that the post-er says these Marines “cut a lot of corners.” I’d be very interested to know how this differs from what they “should” be doing and what is optimal.

This from comments on the video: “Chief, what are you doing?! That was one jacked up fire mission. Are you trying to get your guys killed in a training mission? Not swabbing the breach or checking the bore while firing slow burning greenbag?! And what are you doing in the way between the trails? Didn’t do FCATS, did you? Don’t trust the quadrant on the gunner’s side?”

Legal Interpretations can be the Bane of Good Human Factors

Verizon wireless interpreted an accessibility requirement to require they trigger a notification when the user dials 911. Verizon chose to do this audibly… exactly what you DON’T want when you’re calling the police during an emergency!

“The tone our customer experienced is our interpretation of Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act calling for a provider of telecommunications service to offer service that is accessible and usable by individuals with disabilities. The tone, indicating that 911 has been dialed, is one of several features designed to make wireless service is accessible and easy to use, especially for those with disabilities. Other features include a voice command key where customers can use their voice to dial by name or number; a voice echo feature so that a person who can’t see can hear the number or letter if sending a text; read back text messages and speech output of signal strength, battery strength, missed calls, voicemail, roaming, time and date.”

Read the full news article here.

Perhaps there was no time for use cases or personas. “Debbie sees 4 masked men breaking into her home. Trapped, she hides in the closet and dials…. oh. Wait, guys. I think we have a problem.”

“From the Doctor’s Brain to the Patient’s Vein”

It appears that HFB needs an entire section devoted to medical error. This is not surprising in light of the thousands of Americans who die from preventable errors each year.

The latest comes from Tanzenia where confusion about patient names earned brain surgery for a twisted knee, and knee surgery for a migraine sufferer.

Mr Didas who had been admitted for a knee operation after a motorbike accident is still recovering from the ordeal – he ended up unconscious in intensive care after his head was wrongly operated on. And chronic migraine sufferer Emmanuel Mgaya is likewise, still recovering from his unplanned knee surgery. The blunder was blamed on both patients having the same first name.
But a hospital official, Juma Mkwawa said it was the worst scandal that had happened at Muhimbili hospital and that, “sharing a first name cannot be an excuse”. The two surgeons responsible have been suspended. (BBC)

Before anyone retreats into the comfort of “that wouldn’t happen here,” I suggest a look at the growing literature on similar medication names and their consequences.

It is easy to be the bearer of sad stories and ill tidings. I would rather on a note for a hopeful future. Below are researchers and companies dedicated to identifying and eliminating causes of medical error.

Please add more in the comments section if you know someone working in this important context.

“Set Phasers on Stun” still relevant in healthcare industry

Center Treats Wrong Side Of Patient’s Brain

DETROIT — A patient undergoing treatment at the Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit received a dose of radiation on the wrong side of the brain, according to a report filed with the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

According to the report, a crucial piece of information was misread prior to treatment with a gamma knife, which delivers a targeted form of radiation therapy that zeros in on specific locations in the brain.

The patient went through a routine MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan of the brain just before the procedure, but went into the scanner “feet first,” rather than the standard practice of head first, the document said.

“The gamma knife-authorized medical physicist failed to recognize the scanning error when importing the MRI images into the Gamma Knife treatment planning computer, and subsequently registered them as head first,” the report said. “This resulted in the wrong side of the patient being targeted and treated.”

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What went wrong? Deviation from standards (if there are standards)? Too-busy doctors? I’ll be interested to see who gets the blame.

Another precient post

The multiple monitor post made me think of something I read yesterday. This is from The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman in 1988.

“Would you like a pocket-size device that reminded you of each appointment and daily event? I would. I am waiting for the day when portable computers become small enough that I can keep one with me at all times. I will definitely put all my reminding burdens upon it. It has to be small. It has to be convenient to use. And it has to be relatively powerful, at least by today’s standards. It has to have a full, standard typewriter keyboard and a reasonably large display. It needs good graphics, because that makes a tremendous difference in usability, and a lot of memory – a huge amount, actually. And it should be easy to hook up to the telephone; I need to connect it to my home and laboratory computers. Of course, it should be relatively inexpensive.”

When Norman wrote this, the “first PDA” had been on the market 4 years. Though armed with a full (though alphabetic) keyboard, it hardly fulfilled Norman’s ideals.

Today, of course, even the technologicaly challenged own one of these, only differing in that it IS a phone rather than having to hook it to one:

treo

One thing I find interesting: the device above fits Norman’s functional desires to a T. However, if there is anything that still needs usability improved… it is the cell phone.

And if there is anything that needs it more than a cell phone, it’s anything combined with a cell phone.

Fast Food Wednesday

I was browsing the nutrition information for Moe’s the other day and was struck by the uniqueness of their interface. It let’s you specify exactly what you order, exactly how you order, at their restaurant. Give it a try (click on “Nutrition” in the menu at bottom.) This is obviously an interface for those who need to know just how many calories are in those jalapeno bits.

moes

As an informal comparison, check out these interfaces from Taco Bell, McDonald’s, and Burger King. They all make assumptions, perhaps correct, about their users. For example, it was pointed out to me that taco bell makes sure it’s easy for you to have more than one of the same item (since that’s how people order… two soft tacos, please).

tacobell

McDonald’s seems to think that importing the same table they provide in-restaurant is the way to go.

mcd1

Burger King pretends to be novel, with the “big book of nutrition”, but exploration of any item eventually turns up a table.

bk1

bk2

It does seem to be the most parental of the sites, offering as many tips on how to eat as telling you what they serve.

These interfaces are so rich with both good and bad human factors, I can’t possibly cover it in one post. Let us know your favorites!

The New Field of Unmanned Aircraft

Though for some, turning war into a video game might remind them of 1984, unmanned aircraft offer unparalleled safety to the pilot.

NPR recently covered the technological and social changes that come with unmanned aircraft, but the human factors of tracking, flying, and manipulating the Predator was not mentioned.

Obvious issues include:

  • Lag time from the camera halfway around the world
  • Limited acuity and field of view
  • Decision-making (e.g., bombing a target on a screen vs. dropping a bomb on people)
  • High loss of equipment (if not pilot life)

In short, I worry that the news presented to the public paints a too-rosy picture of these aircraft, implying that we will eventually have robots fighting robots from the comfort of our own homes.

I’d like to hear from people what they consider to be the most interesting human factors challenge of unmanned vehicles. I don’t know much about the design of their interfaces and whether they are more similar to a cockpit or a game console, but I’m interested to learn. Feel free to comment!

game

cockpit