Automating Healthcare
Solving business problems with savvy automation


Business problem
Each person uses a Web site a little differently. I frequently use things that you may never use. Personalizing my interface with the intranet makes it a more efficient tool, thereby making me a more efficient worker and the intranet more valuable to the business. What are some practical, cost-effective ways to personalize an intranet?

My Links
We currently offer two personalization features in our intranet. The first is a process where each worker may create a set of personal shortcuts, called My Links. These are stored in a database, linked to the worker's network login, and loaded dynamically when any page is displayed.

My Links are displayed in a narrow strip between the banner and the primary navigation tabs:

In order to keep the user interface identical for everyone, the section for My Links does not expand vertically. Each person is limited to eight links in this list.

Each new worker's My Links are "seeded" with a generic set of links to items that we think are the best starting point for that person. Clinicians have a different set of default My Links, targeted to their likely needs. We review the My Links "seed" lists regularly (via an automated reminder, of course).

To change links, the user clicks a link in the My Links bar, which opens the form below. To replace a link, the current link is removed, and a new one added.

Clicking "Add" opens a list of all items on the intranet that are My Links "candidates." The user simply clicks the button to "Add to Mylinks" (shown below), inputs a brief title for the item, and optionally sets the sort order.

Not everything on the intranet is configured to be a candidate for My Links. We limit My Links candidates to those items that we think are most likely to be used frequently. This is managed with a setting in the Backbone database for each document (Driving with Databases). I'd like to say that we review all My Links candidates regularly based on usage statistics, but we haven't yet found the time. We simply make a judgment call when a new item is added to the intranet.

One very important personalization technique is to only show each user the items to which they have permissions. It is frustrating for a user to click on something, only to be told that they don't have permission to see it. It is much better to take the extra step and only show the user the items for which they have permissions. Our process for doing this is discussed in Transparent Security and Permissions.

Wish List
We would love to add more personalization, but so far this hasn't risen high enough on the priority list to get done. We plan to look at several possible features:

  • Personal intranet task list on home page — Many workers, especially managers, have various requests to approve or items to update on the intranet. We send an e-mail notifying the worker of the pending task, but it's easy for the e-mail to be ignored. A task list with direct links to the tasks would help busy managers to keep current.
  • RSS feeds instead of e-mail blizzard — Most applications on the intranet, and many other automated processes running in the background, include e-mail reminders and alerts. Eventually, this becomes a blizzard of e-mails, and busy workers may simply create a rule to automatically delete all mail from the intranet. An RSS feed could keep all these messages out of the inbox but easily accessible. However, we haven't yet found an RSS reader that we're comfortable installing across the enterprise.
  • My updated reports list — Everyone has the option to be notified via e-mail when one of "their" reports is updated, but this only contributes to the e-mail blizzard. It would be great if there was a section on the home page that listed newly updated reports for that worker.

Lessons learned

  • If personalization is desired, it should be designed in from the beginning. Later will probably be too late, because there will always be other, more urgent priorities.
  • Everyone likes My Links, including clinicians. Even limited personalization is well worth doing.

Posted 1 April 2008


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