Nursing machines : engineers really have it easy

Saturday I made an interesting encounter, I met a nurse. We met at a bachelor party I organized for a very good friend. It was an adventurous race through Paris where I had designed some cool and fun actions to complete for my friend (nothing to do with dirty bachelor parties, it was in the afternoon !!!). So that’s in between actions that I got to talk with the nurse.

But where are the engineers ?!!

While we were racing in the street, she told me she was glad because for once she didn’t have to work on Saturday. “Really ?!!”, I naively said. Then she went on and introduced her job. She explained it and described all the stress she had to go through. I was kind of shocked by what she shared with me. She said that the patients were plugged to a pumping machine that was used to pump their blood, and often this machine would break down and SHE had to fix it as quickly as possible. Her words were “when that happens I need to fix it and nobody knows how to fix it, I mean I’m not an engineer, but I do have to fix the machine, so sometimes I just fix it by intuition thanks to previous experiences, sometimes I just know what I should do, sometimes I don’t and the engineers are not there”. My immediate reaction was “but where are the engineers???!”, “No idea”, she said. Incredible.

Whose problem is it?

According to her, power cuts sometimes happen too, so they also need to handle that. It’s a huge problem because they massively rely on technology now. Her job is to react really fast when something goes wrong to do anything that is possible to fix a patient. So if the patient is plugged to a machine, and the machine can fix the patient, then she needs to fix the machine. But neither doctors nor nurses in general know how to fix machines, it’s normally an engineer’s job, but no engineers in a hospital, so whose problem is it?

And no blame

Of course it’s the problem of the medical staff, and for the nurse it was really her problem as if fixing the machine was like another medical action. It was very weird because at no point she blamed technology, it was just part of the things to fix. But for me, it’s really obvious that it has to be an engineer’s problem too. It’s crazy that they’re left with nobody to fix the machine. Yet, an engineer would still need some medical knowledge to be sure that the fix is also good for the patient. Technology really is cross-field. That’s why the UI is all the more important.

Engineers really have it easy

It’s the engineers’ fault if the medical staff doesn’t know how to fix the machine. Machines are predictable, rational, you can anticipate their behavior with enough testing and methodology. The engineers did a poor job at showing how to interact with the machine, they didn’t output correctly the possible bugs and how to fix them. It’s the same kind of issue -more complex but same kind- that everybody has encountered with printers : you never know what’s going on, it just doesn’t work and you don’t know why ! Engineers should at least be there to gather the bugs in the real environment and see how to improve their UI for the next upgrade. They could use a precise method to log the bugs and gather them. It shouldn’t be just about selling a device and done, the next device will just be faster and more powerful and that’s it. It shouldn’t be like that. Engineers really have it easy.

UI really is fundamental

They deliver something that works and the UI design is completely neglected. UI is the layer that lets un-tech people interact with technology. As technology becomes more and more applied to other fields, UI really is fundamental. This story reminds me of what the Pr Kevin Warwick said in his talks : machines are already intelligent but we are not yet used to blame them for failures, we still blame humans when machines are the ones responsible. I used to agree with that statement but now my view is that UI makes the machines intelligent. UI makes the machines expressive enough so that we can interact with them on a high level layer, to fix them or control their behavior. So failure of a machine really is a failure of the engineers who created it and neglected its UI.

Anyway, to finish on my story, this nurse was kind or pragmatic enough to not blame the engineers. It was very interesting to meet someone who could describe this aspect of reality so vividly, I had no idea. Engineers really have it easy. Hum I didn’t tell her I was in IT, I was not very proud of it at that moment. Even if I’m in the web and in software, for me it’s a global engineering concern. Shame.