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Nutrition Informatics Blog

Interfaces, Interfaces, Interfaces

(What is Nutrition Informatics, Clinical Nutrition, Professional Education) Permanent link   All Posts

Submitted by Lee Unangst, RD, MIS, CPHIMS


It seems that the theme of my life these days is interfaces—interfaces between information systems, between humans and computers, and between people. For the Nutrition Informatics Committee’s Interoperability and Standards Subcommittee, I am doing my best to get up to speed on Health Level 7 version 3 (HL7 v3). For those of you who do not deal with electronic medical record interfaces, HL7 is the messaging standard used for these communications. 


Part of my work on the committee will include assisting in the testing of new diet order messaging standards that are based on HL7 v3. In working on an issue with the version 2 interface, I recently learned AL1|1|FA|AllergDairy||| communicates a food allergy while AL1|1||AllergDairy||| communicates nothing at all.  It took me a while to see the difference, but a small change in the form of the message results in the loss of the content of the message. I work with version 2 on a pretty regular basis, but v3 is a whole new creature.


At work, I just implemented a system for monitoring the flow of patient trays throughout the delivery process. We are using a handheld computer to record when trays are delivered. Here, the interface at issue is between the user and the device. Quite a few challenges have occurred, both for me and for the food-service workers who have to use the device to quickly enter ticket numbers as they deliver trays. In my opinion, the user interface of the operating system on our current devices (not going to name names) violates some really key conventions of interface design. By choosing to create controls that do not behave the way users expect them to, the designers derailed communication between the device and the user.


Interfaces between people remain as critical as ever. How do I form my messages to the staff to help them understand the new tool that we have, and how it benefits them? How do I approach my peers in management to explain the ways our responsibilities as managers may change as the system is implemented? How do I ensure that I am communicating effectively with the geographically dispersed members of my subcommittee? When I get that call for help after-hours, how do I explain to my 4-year-old that I just need her to keep quiet for a few minutes longer without hurting her feelings?


Again and again, it is easy for a flaw in the way the message is formed to negate the meaning of the communication.


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