Friday, September 18, 2009

Usability and Healthcare Portal Applications

A healthcare portal application is usually more than just an aggregation of portlets. To be really usable, a portal application needs a clear and well defined interaction model between the portlets. In addition to this, since speed and ease of use plays an important role in the quality of care for the patients and the clinical adoption of the solution, the performance of the portal application must be excellent.

Creating portal themes:
The theme of a portal application typically includes portal header, navigation (horizontal and/or vertical), portlet chrome, and footer for controlling the general look and feel of a portal application. It might also include CSS and JavaScript for controlling the look and feel of portlets.

The way themes are created varies from one portal server to another. Fortunately, the overall layout of a portal application and the look and feel of the individual portlets can be separated from the underlying functionalities of the portlets. This separation makes branding much easier and facilitates the porting of the application to other portal servers.

There are several approaches to creating a custom theme for portal applications. Certain vendors (e.g. IBM Websphere) offer portal theme builder, portlets that provide minimum functionalities to create basic themes. For more sophisticated themes and branding of a portal application, developers and designers will start with an existing theme and modify it (e.g. Liferay). Themes are usually a combination of HTML, CSS, images and javascript files. Designers typically use tools such as eclipse plugins, Dreamweaver, Photoshop, Fireworks, etc to modify these files.
Personalization in HealthCare Portal Applications:

Personalization is one of the key features of portal applications. If granted personalization rights, users can personalize their portal Web pages based on their specific roles and authorization schemes.
Themes and layout can also be changed manually by the user or programatically based on the user profile. Additional personalization mechanisms (e.g. using a business rule coupled with user profile matching engine) can also be integrated with the portal solution.
Personalization can be very valuable for care givers, as a means to organize the general views or dashboards associated with their daily tasks in the most comprehensive and efficient way. Personalization can also be important for patients. For example, diabetes patients might want to view medical content related to their diagnosis while cancer patients might want to see their treatment protocols on personalized portal pages.