Saturday, March 11, 2006

Feature Fatigue and Lego PACS

Images courtesy of PC Magazine.

Even a blind pig occasionally finds an acorn, or even a truffle. So it is with yours truly. I was listening to NPR's "Weekend Edition" this morning (yes, conservative ol' Dalai listens to Radio Dark Side on occasion), and I caught an interview with Dr. Roland Rust from the University of Maryland. Dr. Rust holds the David Bruce Smith Chair in Marketing at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, where he is Chair of the Marketing Department and is Executive Director of the Center for Excellence in Service. Good credentials, right? Dr. Rust discussed the theory of "Feature Fatigue", and I was reminded instantly of Lego PACS. It seems I stumbled onto the same basic idea as Dr. Rust and his colleagues. The abstract of his recent paper tells the story:

As technology advances, it becomes more feasible to load products with a large number of features, each of which individually might be perceived as useful. However, too many features can make a product overwhelming for consumers and difficult to use. Three studies examine how consumers balance their desires for capability and usability when they evaluate products and how these desires shift over time. Because consumers give more weight to capability and less weight to usability before use than after use, they tend to choose overly complex products that do not maximize their satisfaction when they use them, resulting in “feature fatigue.” An analytical model based on these results provides additional insights into the feature fatigue effect. This model shows that choosing the number of features that maximizes initial choice results in the inclusion of too many features, potentially decreasing customer lifetime value. As the emphasis on future sales increases, the optimal number of features decreases. The results suggest that firms should consider having a larger number of more specialized products, each with a limited number of features, rather than loading all possible features into one product.

In the interview, Dr. Rust used the example of the latest BMW, which uses a technological innovation called "iDrive". This is sort of like a mouse for the car, and controls about 700 different functions. It looks good on paper, and in the showroom, but it seems that about 95% of those who buy the car actually use maybe 10 or 20 of those 700 options. To me, the way Lexus designs its dashboard is the antithesis to the BMW approach. It is simple and clear, there are far fewer buttons, but those that are there do what they are supposed to do superbly well. The car becomes almost transparent; it's just me and the road. But I digress. The bottom line is that people are attracted to products that have a lot of features, but usually, they end up not using most of the features that caught their eye in the first place. Hence, "feature fatigue", if not outright buyer's remorse.

I think this applies perfectly to my "Lego PACS" concept. Many systems out there are incredible technological tour de forces, or is that tours de force? I have written in my RSNA reviews about some of these. I will certainly give them great credit for innovation and the delivery of power to the end-user. However, do I really need the ability to change the wording of a 3rd-tier sub-menu? Does that help me get through my electronic stack of films any faster and easier? Personally, I think not. When I sit down at my station for a 6-hour uninterupted reading marathon, what I need (besides a bedside commode and a refrigerator) is the ability to interface with the study. I need the most streamlined, but still powerful, set of tools available to examine the image set, process it further if necessary, annotate it if necessary, and then send it away to be replaced by the next victim's, I mean patient's images. As I have put it many times before, the PACS should not get in my way.

I have yet to find an absolutely perfect system, but I still stubbornly insist that Amicas LightBeam comes close. I have the majority of what I need and very little of what I don't need. I do sit on the Amicas Advisory Committee, and I will do my best to keep them steered in that direction.

In the meantime, you'll have to excuse me. My cell-phone/PDA/MP3-Video player is ringing, and I seem to have misplaced my Bluetooth headset with caller ID, so I don't know who in the world is calling. Sometimes, I like feature fatigue....

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