Patients dread medical visits and testing at least in part because of negative prior experiences. While “user experience” has become a common concern in software and technology development, it is a mistake to discount the importance of user experience in healthcare.
User Experience Defined
User experience, as applied to healthcare, is the whole of a patient’s interaction with the health care system. This covers the entire spectrum, including the clinical aspects. The user experience in health care includes administrative tasks like filling out forms, responsiveness to phone calls and messages in patent portals, and encounters with diagnostic devices that range from barely noticeable point of care items (thermometers) to inconvenient, uncomfortable, or even painful tests or procedures (scans, blood tests, or dialysis).
Telemedicine, Portals, and Websites
The coronavirus pandemic threw telemedicine into high gear. User experience with the technology that facilitates remote medical appointments is critical to a virtual visit’s success. Developers must consider the broad range of patients and their corresponding technical skills, as well as external factors like internet speeds, information security, the quality of webcams, and the clarity of communication over computers.
Many health care practices now provide secure portals for patient interaction. Patients can send and receive messages, make appointments, and retrieve test results on these portals. However, if their messages aren’t answered and their test results are indecipherable to any but a medical professional, patients can become frustrated and disillusioned. It can make them distrustful of a technology that was meant to streamline their interactions with their doctors.
The human connection between doctor and patient can get lost in an avalanche of data. From the medical professional’s perspective, technology can overwhelm their desire to provide compassionate, personalized care. Developers of software, databases, and portals must consider medical personnel’s user experience and find ways to streamline, organize, and prioritize tasks so that healthcare providers don’t feel under constant pressure to do too much in too little time.
In the Office
Medical staff members are chronically short of time. Patients are also busy; however, patients need to feel they have spent enough time with their doctor to have all their concerns addressed. When a patient sits alone in an exam room for longer than the exam ultimately takes to perform, they are not going to regard that as a positive experience. Patients who must undergo uncomfortable, time-consuming procedures like infusions and dialysis need to feel as if they are being treated with compassion and not just treated and forgotten. User experience affects the design of everything from the reception area to the chairs to the amount of time and space allotted to each patient.
Likewise, privacy is a concern on all sides. Providers are concerned about compliance with privacy laws and regulations that apply to medical records. Patients share those concerns, but negotiating the maze of requirements for passwords, security questions and authorization forms for caregivers and family can be a daunting task. Health care providers that provide explanations of why they do things the way they do will ease this frustration.
Being mindful of the importance of user experience in healthcare is rapidly becoming a best practice for providers, insurers, and designers of software and medical devices.