Last night I had a great conversation in class that stemmed from the age old questions (if “age old” means since the 1960s) that arise from trying to define technical writing. This is a common and constant conversation in our technical communication community. Is technical writing writing about technical topics, or is it writing in a technical way? Don’t stop reading yet, I won’t attempt to answer these questions here, don’t worry.
What I think is interesting about this discussion came up later in the class. We got to talking about how this definition of the phrase isn’t the only area where technical writers disagree. Another major topic comes up when we start asking whether we make technology adapt to the consumer or the consumer adapt to the technology. For instance, my professor shared how within the department they thought about changing a course to fit in with another course but were told no because the system couldn’t handle that. What? We couldn’t combine two classes for credit because the computer system couldn’t combine them and make it work in the student’s schedule – not because it didn’t make logical sense or because the professors didn’t agree it would be acceptable, but instead because the computer system wasn’t set up that way. I hope we all agree that this isn’t fair – we can’t allow the technology to make those decisions for us. There I said it, and most of the people I work with would be gasping right about now.
Because this is where it leads to what I do for my career. Implementing an electronic medical record (EMR) and a health information exchange (HIE) into a clinic or hospital causes change. Providers have been practicing medicine for years, and doing a good job of it, before we walk in the door and drop this technology into their workflow. And here’s where, just like within the field of technical communication, professionals have differing opinions. Should we help the providers change their workflow, based on the best practices and lessons learned, to work well with the new technology? Or, should we implement this technology to enhance their current workflow and practices even if it means tweaking the technology at times? I will give you a hint, there’s no right answer.
However, since this is my blog I get to answer and you get to not tell my coworkers on me, I will tell you that I’m not a clinician (gasp) and I don’t know the first thing about what workflow works best in YOUR clinic. I am walking in to your clinic and hoping that I can help you, the clinician with the bright and shiny framed diploma hanging on your wall, use this technology to make your day to day work easier and make information more accessible to you so that you can save more lives. The bottom line is that I want you to be able to do what you do all day every day, but to do it in a better, safer, and easier way. If I stick with this process I am saying that the technology should adapt to you. I’m saying that we shouldn’t not allow for change because the technology doesn’t want us to change or won’t allow it. I think you can combine classes if you think it’s best for the student and not have to worry about whether the computer will allow you to do this. I think you can practice medicine the way you have established is best for your office, and just let the system help you to be able to see more patients and see more about those patients so that you can treat them. I think you have to allow for change so that you can grow, and the technology shouldn’t hold you back from this growth. And I think that near the end of a three hour class, when your professor asks if you want to cover one more topic or get out a little early, you should answer "get out early" without hesitation or else you will receive many glares from your fellow classmates.