Friday, 25 March 2011

LCD information screens, or is it garbage?

So here I boringly am having a boring wait for an outpatient clinic at the Whitt. Did I mention that it's boring? Ah yes, good, because it is.

Hurrah! The National Health service has provided a lovely big screen to provide information and stave off boredom. Ahem, yes indeed.

On the screen are lots of adverts. These cover a range of topics - some are straight NHS information, for example smoking and depression services, infection control in hospitals, welcome to this department, and so on. Others are just ads, but with I guess the intention that they're at least potentially relevant to people sitting here bored off their skulls (did I mention the boredom?) so there are dentists, hotels, estate agents and quite a few minicab firms.

The NHS stuff is mostly well-made and coherent. The commercial stuff is more variable - some of it's good, some is poorly designed and/or illiterate.

So far so good - it's mostly not a bad service, though I note that there really are are quite a lot of screens … if you were to watch it because you were looking for a particular piece of information, you might get to wait quite a long time for it to come round. I think this limits the usefulness if the service; indeed, if you can't use it easily to find out information then why is it there? Maybe it could just be pictures of flowers and bunnies instead, if its main function is really to be wallpaper? But them you couldn't charge businesses - other perhaps than flower suppliers and bunny breeders? - to put their ads up here. Hmmmm.

Here, though, is the real showstopper. Well it's two of them, really, but they are not unrelated.

There are two menu-like bands top and bottom of the screen. They are independent of the main screen content. The top one has, prominently, the time and date, and the lower one has a short scrolling message.

The message says:

"Welcome to the department. Watch this screen to see up to date waiting times."

This is an excellent idea - indeed if I were given the choice I'd prefer some information on waiting times to more minicab adverts. And you certainly see this message plenty, as it's the only item in its own little scrolling section so it repeats every 16s or so. Sadly it doesn't seem to have got past the "excellent idea" phase as the promised waiting times never actually appear. You can watch all their lovely ads as long as you like, but you don't see any waiting times. I could do with this as it's now 35 minutes after my appointment time and still not a squeak. So, without wishing to be horrible, I do feel that this part of the service is a complete failure, as it makes a promise on which it does not deliver.

The other problem is simple, amusing and really quite pathetic. Remember the top band with the date and time in? Well, the clock is half an hour slow. If it's now 1220 then the clock claims it's 1150. Like, connected, man. That says it all, really: once we've seen that we don't really need to know much more about how this service is used and valued, because it isn't. It is mostly a waste of space, a nice little earner wearing the stolen clothing of an information system. I diskard it.

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