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Taking a Patient-First Approach to Medical UX Design

July 31, 2019

To design UX for the optimal medical experience and outcome, businesses should understand the state of the patient’s disease, the patient’s socioeconomic status, and the patient’s world and care team.

Designing medical experiences is very different from general user experience design. Because of many factors relating to the patient’s medical state, socioeconomic status, and his or her care team and providers, building optimal medical experiences and outcomes is nuanced and complex.

For this reason, you first need to design for the optimal result – not the software – and really consider the patient’s world and condition. Finally, you need to take a pragmatic, focused approach to building the optimal outcome.

In this article, we’ll review things to consider when designing for the optimal medical experience and result.

A Patient Is Not a User

Typically, when you design a piece of software, you define the user, use cases, and then move on from there. This is different when designing medical experiences.

Rather than thinking of the patient as a user and the use cases associated with that person, you need to consider these three factors:

The State of the Patient’s Disease

Depending on the disease and the progression of the disease, patients will have a certain amount of capability. 

For example, a patient with Alzheimer's could have limited cognitive abilities. And with some chronic diseases (such as cancer, diabetes, kidney disease), the patient’s capabilities can be quite different across the continuum of the disease.

Factoring the patient’s condition into your goals for achieving the optimal patient outcome is key.

The Patient’s Socioeconomic Status

Determinants of health may be biological, behavioral, sociocultural, economic, and ecological.  As it turns out, socioeconomic status has a complex relationship and result when it relates to health. 

For example, people with fewer resources may not have good access to care services, or even transportation to get healthcare. 

If the patient has a family and works full time, he or she may not have time to focus on their health. 

Or, the stress related to his or her socioeconomic status may in and of itself impact the patient’s health. And then there are things to consider such as health care coverage – for example, is the patient on Medicare? Who and how will treatment be funded?

The Patient’s World and His or Her Care Team

This brings us to understanding what the patient’s circumstances are and who their care team is. 

When designing for medical experiences, you need to put the patient in the center of the sphere and work your way out.

Patient-first approach

Ground yourself in understanding if the patient has an adequate care circle. Who is their doctor? Do they have a family? What is the quality of their provider organization (for example, are they in an area with access to the best labs, medical equipment, research, and care teams)?

And finally, understand who the payor is. This can help you determine if an optimal patient result can be achieved by augmenting support with those who are closest to the patient.

Design for the Outcome, Not the Software

In general, designing for the result and not the software is a good practice in UX. But in particular, in healthcare, it is important to design for the patient outcome you want to achieve and not existing or new software capabilities. 

Take, for example, a technically proficient 89-year-old man with congestive heart failure with a good support network and the wherewithal to have the help that is needed. Your goal will be for him to manage his congestive heart failure effectively and to return to a meaningful and realistic level of activity. 

This might involve the patient AND his network of caregivers in managing medication and in living a healthy lifestyle. Whereas patients with Alzheimer’s may be compromised in their ability to administer care – you need to rely more on the caregivers and simple tasks.

Fix the Problem, One Step at a Time

Let’s equate healthcare to a wall and say the entire wall may be compromised. But when designing for optimal medical experiences and results, you need to understand you cannot fix the entire wall at once; you need to fix one thing at a time. 

For example, with a current client, we are helping to design a digital experience that will enable patients requiring highly expensive drugs to optimize their adherence to the prescribed treatment.

Rather than boil the ocean, we focus on discrete objectives such as helping more people who have been prescribed a drug to use it and adhere to it for the best patient outcome.

Don’t Go It Alone

If you are looking to build or enhance a medical experience or you have a current medical digital solution, please contact Catalyst UX.

Catalyst UX has more than 25 years of experience, with a rich concentration of UX design and development in medical and life sciences. We would love to share our learnings with you and help you craft the ultimate medical experience and results.