How NOT to set up a wireless Internet portal


I just came home from a couple of days in the hospital from a nasty urinary tract infection. What I can say about it is that is the sort of painful malady for which morphine was invented — and thank goodness it exists! After a course of IV antibiotics (and a generous amount of morphine) I am home to finish up the mending.

While at this modern hospital I attempted to log into their public wireless from my room (Room 420, which I dubbed “the Colorado Suite”). However, what should have been something easy turned into an exercise in frustration do to what I consider a poorly designed log-in portal.

When one attempts to get on the network, one is presented with a screen asking for full name, phone number, and wireless carrier. I would dutifully enter the info, be taken to site to log-in — and then be routed right back to enter the same information.

The hospital floor staff got ahold of their IT department and the situation became clearer. It seems their log-in required a text message to be sent to the cell phone of the person trying to set up log-in credentials. My phone doesn’t have text (too annoying). The IT asked if maybe I could see if Verizon had it in the email address they set up for me when creating the account, as the text may have gone there. I replied that I was unaware of any email account — and I had no Internet access to check it even if it did!

I mentioned to the hospital IT person that not everyone has text capability, not everyone may have their phone on — and often people are advised NOT to take expensive smart phones into the hospital to avoid having them lost or stolen.

I also pointed out the instructions on the log-in screen said nothing about sending a text to your phone. So, when the system kept sending texts to a null account, I receive no feedback at all on what was wrong. I just was shuttled back to the main log-in page to do it again, with failure preordained.

I also wonder how many people trying to log into a computer would simply blow off an incoming text they were not expecting?

Was there a workaround? Nope. No texted credentials to enter, no log-in.

So, how many errors can we spot here in good end-user friendliness design? Here is my list:

1. The log-in process was unusual in that it required another device that the end-user might not have in their possession at the time.
2. The log-in screen offered no guidance on what was going to happen in the log-in process and that it mandated a step with another device.
3. The log-in process offered no guidance on what might have caused the log-in to fail and how to contact hospital IT.
4. The hospital IT department had no workaround for users who didn’t have the required device in their possession at the time (a cell phone with text messaging).
5. The log-in process appears to be needlessly complicated. If there are concerns that there is the potential for abuse of the wireless network, then compromise with a set of rolling prebuilt credentials for patients assigned to each room.

Please consider that all of this was occurring during an epically painful medical episode with periodic morphine-induced haziness. A complicated log-in process with failure built into it for a certain percentage of patients is not acceptable.

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