Our team has been thinking a lot lately about the problems we all face when dealing with legacy/existing health care applications and how our team has the expertise to help. There’s potential for improvement and, in some ways, the most minor changes could significantly improve how a user interacts with an application. Making improvements to apps used by admins, physicians, and patients could save time, money, and even increase wellbeing.
Current health care applications seem to suffer from antiquated development process. The interface that people have to use daily seems to be developed with a great understanding of the data but lacking the perspective or context on HOW and WHEN and BY WHOM that information will be used. Without the strategy of the user experience included in the design, the application is doomed to fail its users from the beginning. And worse, adding functionality on top of a broken design can only leave you with something more like Homer Simpson’s car.
Although there are regulations and complicated processes to contend with, is designing useful health care apps so different from designing other types of applications? Other industries, services, and companies are increasingly embracing technology and improving user experiences every day. And yet the management of our health and wellbeing seems to be quite far behind.
Is it such a unique field that we can’t apply any of our design expertise? I don’t believe so, and here’s why:
How can a good design process be industry-agnostic?
A good user experience designer has a process that should invariably work across any application or software. Of course, one size doesn’t fit all – but with the framework of a process in place, a good designer has the flexibility to address any type of problem, application, user, and environment. Regardless of the context, the steps to achieve a good design are the same:
1. Ask, talk to, and learn from the right people
The key to successfully learn what you are designing for is to learn what the problem is. It’s also to make sure you talk to the right people. In health care, this doesn’t just mean patients or doctors. It means patients, doctors, nurses, administrators, regulators, the various people behind a health care plan, other designers and developers, etc.
It’s so very easy to sit back and look at the application a nurse uses to check you in and say, “oh gosh – that’s awful!” It might also be easy for me to sit in my silo and design an app that I believe would be better. But I have no idea what that user is trying to do, because I’m not a nurse! And I have no idea how their app actually works for them and how it doesn’t.
As a designer, what I bring to the table is not the knowledge of the tasks, but a process to find solutions; a keen sense of knowing how to differentiate the difference between a nice to have vs a need to have; of problems vs symptoms.
Sentiments like “This doesn’t work right,” “Customers don’t like this,” and “This is such a pain” aren’t a green light to redesign.
As a designer, it’s my responsibility to discover why, who, what, where, when, and then, like any good crime solver, to put the puzzle together. Then you’ll be able to design “how” they application can work FOR them.
Beyond the discovery, there’s still research to do. A good designer must understand the people involved, the scenarios and environments in which they are using the application, and the challenges they face. When designing for health care, we also need to understand the role each user plays when interacting with an application.
For example, HIPAA regulations might dictate what information a given user is authorized to access. How is data privacy being managed? What type of information is given and can it do harm if misunderstood? Understanding the users as well as the ecosystem of the health care world is essential to understanding what would make effective, as well as safe and secure, solutions.
3. Understand the goals and build efficient workflows
Based on user research and discovery information, build a workflow that functions well in a particular system. It’s essential to examine the entire journey - online and offline- especially in healthcare, to understand what would be most helpful.
Is there an experience prior to going online that would provide helpful context (Are you Googling symptoms at home? Are you a busy doctor with a list of patients to see?) Is there an experience after you use the application that’s still part of the process (checking into your appointment, talking with a patient)?
Understanding the full path of a user, not just the time they are online, provides vital insights at all touchpoints. Mapping out the experience and talking through the discoveries with the team will help uncover the right solution, and be beneficial for the project.
4. Build upon ideas with partners
Armed with information about the user and their workflows and the experience you are designing for, you can start to design solutions with your team. Together with your partners, you can talk through ideas, test out options, and decide which make the most sense.
5. Finish and test
With a solution in hand, you can test ideas before they are fully developed with actual users and get input before much time and money is spent on implementation. This is a step that’s useful for any project, but can be especially helpful in the field of health care.
While there are deviations in tools and methods, the process to design for health care is no different for me. Even with a different industry, users, and needs, the process for me as designer is still the same. That’s not because of a one-size-fits-all process, but because designing for a solution requires the same thoughtful skills of finding answers, understanding users, and building for their needs. The rest can, and should, vary.
I think it’s time we remove the barriers and walls that health care applications exist behind. Together we can understand the obstacles and define the scenarios.
Designing for problems, no matter how big or small, is industry-agnostic. We should make a focused effort to positively reshape the one that impacts us the most.