PhD Students Melissa Braxton and Michael Gilbert Attend the Workshop for Interactive Systems in Healthcare

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

By Melissa Braxton and Michael Gilbert, PhD students

Earlier this month, two PhD students from the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering (HCDE), Melissa Braxton and Michael Gilbert, attended the third annual Workshop for Interactive Systems in Healthcare (WISH 2012), which was co-located with the National American Medical Informatics Association's (AMIA) Annual Symposium in Chicago.

WISH 2012 provided a unique opportunity for researchers in biomedical informatics, healthcare, computer science, human-computer interaction (HCI), and anthropology to not only present their work, but also to create collaborative relationships with researchers outside of their own academic discipline.

Because of the event's small size, both Braxton and Gilbert were able to have meaningful, ongoing discussions with their fellow attendees and also have conversations with some of the HCDE/HCI "stars" in attendance (such as Ben Shneiderman and Mark Ackerman). The two-day event included two excellent keynote presentations—one given by Dr. Ben Shneiderman and the other by Dr. Ted Shortliffe.

Ben Shneiderman, PhD, is a Professor of Computer Science at the University of Maryland’s Human-Computer Interaction Lab. In his keynote presentation, Shneiderman talked about important visual communication and usability principles in the design of health information technology (HIT) and the need for HIT designers to engage all stakeholders, particularly HIT vendors, in new technology design, development, and implementation.

Shneiderman emphasized that if vendors are not engaged in the important academic work that is being done toward designing more usable and useful interactive healthcare technologies, valuable innovations may never break through the academic "bubble" to have a broader positive impact on the field. He also spoke directly to the spirit of collaboration that was apparent at WISH 2012, enumerating that it is not simply within the realm of medical informatics to improve patient care, but in the human centered design process of creating interfaces that increase the capacity of health care workers to treat their patients; service design that provides new ways of interpreting existing data; and application designs that empower patients to take their care into their own hands.

Ted Shortliffe, MD, a Professor of Biomedical Informatics at Columbia University, is a computer scientist and is considered a pioneer of artificial intelligence in medicine. Shortliffe's keynote began with a short history of biomedical informatics. He talked about the expanding multidisciplinarity of the field and the challenges facing academic institutions that seek to support the diverse educational needs of biomedical informaticians. Shortliffe addressed cultural differences that create unique obstacles for academic departments of biomedical informatics (compared to other multidisciplinary Departments)—namely that there is a substantial difference between the funding structures for academic appointments in medicine when compared to those within other disciplines.

Braxton commented that Shortliffe's talk reminded her of many discussions that she has participated in within the HCDE Department about the diversity in the fields of HCDE and HCI, and the challenges that HCDE/HCI practitioners face in talking and thinking about their work in ways that account for this diversity.

Shortliffe demonstrated that other disciplines that are also concerned with the intersection between people and technology experience similar challenges—where the introduction of technology into domains where it has not traditionally been the focus (e.g., medicine)—is increasing the complexity of educating professionals who will design the technology and information systems for these (traditionally non-technical) domains.

Through the keynote addresses and the posters and research on display during the two day conference, WISH 2012 highlighted many of the new ways that patient care can be improved, costs can be reduced, and how the field of health care can benefit from new collaborations across communities and disciplines.