We all wish we had more time to do the things we want to do and time has become a precious commodity and something we don’t seem to have enough of.

This concept of limited time became very apparent to me in the run up to Christmas, with the Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. Many of my family and friends bought items in the sale that they had earmarked as Christmas presents for themselves. The desire for getting a bargain and having the item now was stronger than waiting for the item to be given as a gift; instant gratification won out over patience.

What does this have to do with medical device design and human factors? Quite a lot. In a recent usability study that we carried out, the product on test required users to wait for long periods of time between activities. Whilst most were happy to do this under test conditions, nearly all of them stated that they wouldn’t do this at home, as they didn’t have time for this and in fact they began to change their behaviour because they didn’t understand why they had to wait. They started to speed up the test to get it over with.

Not focusing on or understanding what matters most tends to fuel impatience. Impatience creeps in insidiously, and if people feel anxious, worried, or unhappy, they may not even realise that the underlying cause of these feelings is impatience. Observed use errors often result from impatience, when users don’t know or understand why they have to do things in a certain way and find short cuts to achieve what they think is the right result. Getting to the end becomes more important than how they got there.

Peoples’ time is precious and in today’s society, where instant gratification is the norm, asking people to wait or delay their actions without explanation is a recipe for disaster. Patience is a virtue but one we struggle to achieve if explanations are not provided.

In the usability study when users were informed why the waiting was necessary, the use error rate reduced dramatically, with many more being prepared to wait the required time to get the right result.