Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Last Lecture

I just finished reading Randy Pausch's "The Last Lecture." Wow- what an inspiring book. For those who haven't read it (or seen the actual lecture on Youtube, which is worth looking up), Randy Pausch was a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon with pancreatic cancer. He was given the opportunity to deliver one last lecture to Carnegie Mellon, and more importantly to his children. His lecture is about living out your childhood dreams, and just being a better person.

One thing that struck me in the book (it's not mentioned in the lecture itself) is an anecdote about when he was a professor at the University of Virginia. He was teaching a class on user interface, and would start the semester by bringing in a functional VCR to the front of the room, and then smashing it with a sledgehammer. His point was designers cannot lose site of the end user- the people who actually use the product. VCRs can do a lot of cool things, but they are frustrating to use.

This applies to a lot of consumer products. As an example, this is the year I finally made the switch over to using a Mac. So far, I've been very happy using the Mac. It is striking how much more work and play I have now that I don't waste 30-60 minutes daily dealing with anti-virus and anti-spam software. It's just an easier, cleaner, and more fun interface.

Anyway, reading Randy Pausch's book, I was struck by how often in medicine we lose site of the end user- the patient. Just like computer and VCR designers, we can do so many amazing things in medicine. But none of that really makes a difference unless it affects the end product, and improves the patient's experience.

And I really don't want to be smashing patients with sledgehammers.

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