How to improve healthcare apps through user experience

Brett Mazoch, a UI designer at Epro, shares his top four takeaways from the UXBristol conference on how an integrated approach to software design and user experience can be applied to better support clinicians
UXBristol 2017

We live in times where web and mobile apps are a common part of our world. Most people, including clinicians, want software that improves their daily lives in an intuitive and efficient manner. Which is why properly designed user experience (UX) is often expected by default.

The NHS recognises the importance of UX, now more than ever. Bob Wachter, the renowned American Digital Doctor who lead a review into NHS hospital IT, also agrees. His review, produced by a National Advisory Group, claimed that “the usability of technology is one of the major drivers of its widespread adoption and use in everyday life”, and goes on to say “a negative user experience for the patient may well have consequences for both the individual and the healthcare system”.

User interface (UI) and its usability are key elements of overall UX. UI designed with users in-mind has a positive impact on its efficiency and precision. Wachter illustrates this by explaining how a well-designed electronic order screen “may have clearly labeled medications in a readable font and size, with an intuitive search function that minimises the potential for user error by separating and graphically distinguishing similar sounding medications”.

So how can we look beyond the UI and design a better UX for users? The UXBristol conference had some of the answers. The event brought together people from various tech roles to practise UX design techniques in collaborative workshops. Here are my four takeaways that could support the development of better healthcare apps...

1. Measure and evaluate digital impact

In the first workshop, Tim Dixon from UX consultancy company Nomensa, outlined how to measure and evaluate digital impact of projects by his framework through inputs, activities, outputs, outcomes  and impact analysed from the perspective of:

  • Innovation (e.g. value derived from the creation of novel products or processes).
  • Internal process (e.g. value derived internally for organisations through efficiency).
  • Social/audience (e.g. value from understanding the user).
  • Economic (e.g. increased productivity/net).

Dixon mentioned the importance of defining SMART metrics (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timely). Once the metrics are set, firstly measure them by monitoring tools and user research, secondly analyse collected data and, finally, react accordingly. The framework is handy to support evaluation of the current state, our decisions and our next actions based on reasonable data. The impact-oriented approach is effective way of introducing to others positive results of UX design through data-driven examples.

2. Consistent, connected, cross channel customer experience

‘Take UX beyond CX (Customer Experience) from screens to physical environments’ was the message from the second workshop by Bristol based UX consultant Alan Colville.

CX is the sum of all experience a customer can have over the duration of relationship and interaction with services and products. This is important to consider especially during a research of the users. Rather than jumping straight into analysing their typical characteristics, we should focus on their end-to-end experience.

Coville believes in journey-driven research based on the context within which the experience take place. For example, when designing personas and their journey maps, expand your focus to the characteristics such as action triggers, the context of the actions, ping points, trusted channels, organisation perception and others. You will be rewarded by more useful information about users.

3. Let’s talk about strategy

“There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all” — a good strategy can prevent us from doing so, but what are good and bad strategies? These questions were explored by Sophie Dennis, a freelance consultant at NHS Digital.

Dennis pointed out that a good strategy helps us make decisions and gives us a purpose. But for instance apps and digital transformation are common examples of bad strategies. They often suffer from being so called ‘shiny thing’ strategies, where the shiny thing is a solution looking for a problem, rather than a strategy. We should avoid it.

In my opinion, a good strategy gives fuel and direction to UX design process which then has the power to drive us through challenges on the way to great user experience. It’s crucial to set concrete, tangible and feasible goals, be aware of the most significant barriers to success and follow the strategy to achieve desired positive change.

4. Managing co-design UX workshops

How to manage such a session was explained by Stavros Garzoni, a former president UXPA UK and UX Google Expert. He suggested that co-design sessions guided by UX agent in a group of stakeholders, designer/developer representatives and users, empowers participants to find right design solutions.

Co-design UX workshops are an excellent way of capturing ideas and making decisions. There are some good practices to follow. For example, have clear and visible instructions available during the exercises, collaborate with key stakeholders in advance to establish the objectives, brief participants ahead, etc. The key is solid preparation. Garzoni advised to develop our own checklists which should cover tasks needed to do beforehand, during, straight after, the day after and ASAP after the session.

At the end, the result of a co-design session should be a design solution, but there is another, which is also important in my opinion—all participants should feel they were really involved because it builds a firm connection with the solution.

Final thoughts

UX design is a very broad field and involves cooperation between purposefully-led people from various positions. Chances of creating excellent user experience can be increased by:

  • Including UX design expert in the product team.
  • Incorporating right UX design methods into the design process.

I believe the healthcare IT industry can benefit from cooperation with clinical experts and organisations specialised on user experience. How? By establishing UX design processes and by following proven design methods supported by UX best practices.

In the end, what this all boils down to is designing applications that support clinicians in the best way possible. Its clear that both UI and UX have an important part to play in that journey.