Previous Page An Issue 53.
The term USER FRIENDLY is usually applied to the trouble-free way that computer software moves people from screen to screen, function to function. However, the term can also refer to a government office, a library, public transportation or anything designed to provide information or services in an easy, friendly way. Just as all societies have many striking examples of user-friendly services, so do they abound in examples of user-friendly systems. Question
Identify a system or service that you have found to be either USER-FRIENDLY or USER-UNFRIENDLY. Discuss it from the user's perspective in what way the system either is or is not easy to use and explain the consequences or effect of such a system. Analysis
If one focuses on systems such as financial services and telecommunications where emerging technologies have the greatest impact, one sees increasing user- friendliness. However, in other systems - public and private like - inefficiencies, roadblocks and other unfriendly features still abound. One such example is the U.S. health-care delivery system.
To a large extent, the user-unfriendly nature of health-care delivery stems from its close tie to the insurance industry. Service providers and suppliers inflate prices, knowing that insurance companies can well afford to pay by passing on inflated costs to the insured. Hospital patients are often discharged prematurely merely because insurance fails to cover in-patient care beyond a certain amount or duration. In the extreme, patients are sometimes falsely informed that they are well or cured just so that the facility can make room for insured patients. Insurance providers reject claims and coverage intentionally and in bad faith when the insured has suffered or is statistically likely to suffer from a terminal or other long-term and costly-illness. Insurance companies also impose extreme coverage exceptions for pre-existing conditions. Both tactics are designed, of course, to maximize insurance company profits at the expense of the system's user. Finally, new medical technologies that provide more effective diagnosis and treatment are often accessible only to the select few who can afford the most comprehensive insurance coverage.
The consequences of these user-unfriendly features can be grave indeed for the individual, since this system relates directly to a person's physical well-being and very life. For example, when a claim or coverage is wrongfully denied, lacking financial resources to enforce their rights, an individual customer has little practical recourse. The end result is to render health care inaccessible to the very individuals who need it most.
These user-unfriendly features can be deleterious on a societal scale as well. An unhealthy populace is an unproductive one. Also, increased health-care costs place an undue burden on bread-winning adults who feel the squeeze of caring for aging parents and for children. Finally, these features foster a pervasive distrust of government, big business and bureaucracy.
In sum, to day's POINT-AND-CLICK paradigm inaccurately portrays the actual functionality of many systems including our health-care delivery system which is well-entrenched in self-interest and insensitivity to the hundreds of its users.