Microsoft Common User Interface

Its funny how things seem to line up just at the right time some times. I am working on a couple of projects that have a significant healthcare user UI component. Now my focus is primarily around Business Process Integration and Electronic Health Records, not user interface. So I was immediately attracted to the possibilities when I heard about the Common User Interface project Microsoft and the UK NHS are involved in.

Briefly (and there are much better descriptions on the web site), the CUI project came about through a realisation as to the impact of user interface design on medical errors. In the UK, as with just about everywhere else in the world, medical errors are a serious issue that result in fatalities. The number are always pretty shocking, 900,000 medical errors in the UK per year, with roughly 8% leading to fatalities. That probably seems suprising, but when you look at the range and diversity of application interfaces that care providers are faced with in a working day, it’s not really that amazing. Simple things, like misunderstanding dates and times, as well as medication names can lead to errors, and when treatment of ill individuals in involved, the mistakes can be fatal.

The project intends to develop out a series design guideline that will be used to standardise the interfaces for medically critical data areas, and over time will be used by the NHS to ensure compliance from the vendor community that supports it. The part here that interests me is that the design guidelines that are being produced are done with input from care providers and risk assessors that are focused on providing effective interfaces for care providers. The design guidelines are halted at the wire frame level, providing flexibility in final design for the individual vendors.

Taking this one stage further, Microsoft is developing out a series of common controls based on the AJAX.net framework. The controls are obviously in line with the guidelines being developed and are available on the MS CUI web site.

Now I’ll be the first to point out (actually not the first, but since this is my blog, I’m the first on this page) that the controls are not yet complete and there is a lot of further work to be done before its completes. But both Microsoft and the NHS are committed to the further development of the CUI over the next few years. Furthermore the MS-CUI components have been published up on a Codeplex library, and the controls can be embedded in projects with the standard community licensing. Importantly here, they are aiming for a community. So get involved!

For myself, I’ll be looking to use the common controls and design guidance to shorten the time to develop out client solutions. Being able to tell clients that the design for the controls had clinician input is huge.

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