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Hidden depths: Why tech is most potent when it’s least visible

After the shine of novelty wears off, technology must quietly deliver on the business of making our lives easier.

In 1930, Paul V. Galvin, founder of the Galvin Manufacturing Corporation based in Chicago, Illinois, introduced an early version of a car radio into the maturing US automobile market.

The technology was marketed under the brand name Motorola, with Galvin tying together "motor" with "ola" to create a word he intended to represent the concept of sound in motion. Galvin’s radio, along with other products that followed, was a commercial success – so much so that the company eventually rebranded itself to become Motorola, Inc in 1947, dropping the founder’s name altogether.

In today’s world, it is difficult to appreciate how ground-breaking such an innovation would have been. Modern vehicles are not only equipped with digital radios as standard, they integrate all manner of wireless technologies that enable us to seamlessly make phone calls, stream music and follow live navigation routes, all with just the sound of our voice.

Answering the user

The journey of car radio from ground-breaking to commonplace is important to show how technology evolves over time to become increasingly invisible - a concept written about by Donald A. Norman in his book The Invisible Computer: Why Good Products Can Fail, the Personal Computer Is So Complex, and Information Appliances Are the Solution.

Norman describes the fact that technologies have life cycles, and as they develop, the attributes of convenience and ease-of-use become ever more important. At the same time, the technology itself – once the star of the show – fades into the background. For Norman, therefore, the user experience is at the heart of a product’s purpose and success; it is not about the technology itself, but about whether that technology is able to answer the user’s wants and needs by offering a combination of utility and enjoyability.

There are plenty of examples of products that have discreetly established themselves within our personal and professional lives by meeting these criteria. Just look at the plethora of smart apps we rely on to feed us with information, manage our finances, and even control the temperature of our homes – all with a simple swipe, tap or fingerprint.

Easing the load on pharmacy teams

At Hub & Spoke Innovations, the user experience has always been something we have prioritised in relation to the Pharmaself24, our 24-hour medicine collection point. There are two angles to consider here: the experience of the pharmacy team and the experience of the patients themselves.

In terms of the patient, over time we have refined the user interface (UI) to make using the machine as simple and pleasing as possible. From screen visibility to the structure of menus and the tone of the language, we want to ensure that even the most technophobic will find engaging with the Pharmaself24 is both straightforward and rewarding.

From the perspective of the pharmacy team, the Pharmaself24 has been designed to make the back-end loading process intuitive and efficient, and evidence of this can be seen by the fact that our customers are typically up-and-running within just hours of the machine being commissioned.

Our software has also been designed to fit neatly alongside existing pharmacy PMR systems, but at Hub & Spoke Innovations we know an opportunity exists to become more invisible by integrating into the real ‘power hub’ of every pharmacy: the PMR.

The next frontier

By developing deeper connectivity between the Pharmaself24 and the PMR systems used by our customers, we will be able to further reduce friction for pharmacists and technicians at an operational level, while also feeding valuable data on usage into the pharmacy’s nerve centre.

With the Pharmaself24 and PMR communicating seamlessly, there will be no need for additional hardware or the requirement to learn new products or processes – it will happen in the background as part of an update to existing software. We now have full two-way integrations available for some of the leading PMR providers, enabling the Pharmaself24 to become embedded in the pharmacy workflow and deliver an enhanced user experience - in line with Donald Norman’s theory.

Ultimately, the purpose of such developments is to make the pharmacy team’s job easier. Achieving this simple goal may require ever more complex technologies, but for those providing a 24/7 collection service - and for the patients using it – this becomes another example of invisible computing, much like the mobiles in our pockets or the radios in our cars.

This article first appeared in Pharmacy Business magazine.

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