When you think of good design, what comes to mind?
A well-organized restaurant menu? Or your favorite mobile banking app's accessible interface? While these are all great examples, have you considered good design in the context of healthcare?
Imagine user-friendly kiosks for hospital check-ins or an electronic health record (EHR) system that allows clinicians to spend more time with their patients (instead of being stuck in front of the computer for hours).
Keep reading as we explore healthcare UX design, its unique challenges, and what it's like to be a healthcare designer. We'll also touch on the future of healthcare UX design and the essential skills designers need to shape that future.
What is healthcare UX design?
Designing helpful, intuitive user experiences for healthcare products and services is the goal of healthcare user experience (UX) design. This practice involves the creation of digital and physical touchpoints that improve accessibility, efficiency, and user-friendliness in healthcare settings.
UX professionals in healthcare gauge how easy it is to use healthcare technologies, how well the healthcare process works, and how people feel about their healthcare experience.
"The overarching goal of my work is to improve the experience of being a patient, health care provider, or another 'user' of the health care system. Designers like me have a toolkit of methods that help us work through tangled problems, develop appropriate solutions, and work with teams to bring those solutions to life," explains Katie McCurdy, a design and research consultant specializing in healthcare.
Why great UX design should be a priority in healthcare
"Not enough healthcare technology and services are designed with a people-centered approach or design thinking. This has led to bad healthcare UX and therefore bad health for most people, especially for the poorest people in the world who can't afford better healthcare technology and services," writes Gyles Morrison, a clinical UX strategist and specialist.
This gap in embracing a user-centered approach hinders the industry from reaping the benefits of good healthcare UX design, outlined below.
1. It’s easier for patients to access and understand their health information
Good UX helps patients manage their health and make informed decisions about their care. Mayo Clinic's Knowledge and Evaluation Research (KER) unit is an example of this approach (also known as Shared Decision Making or SDM). Through this approach, patients have access to helpful information and interactive guides to help them understand treatment options and make decisions that align with their preferences. Below you’ll see their SDM tool on patients with type 2 diabetes.
2. Reduce errors and improve safety
Designing with user experience in mind can help reduce errors and improve safety in healthcare systems. The Medisafe app is a good example. Through the app, users get personalized medication reminders and interaction checkers to help them adhere to their medication schedules and avoid double-dosing.
3. Contribute to increased patient satisfaction and engagement
When patients have a positive experience with healthcare, they’re more likely to be satisfied with their care and more likely to follow through with treatment recommendations.
For example, WebMD offers user-friendly health information and resources tailored to individual conditions, helping patients understand their health better and make informed decisions. This often leads to increased patient satisfaction and engagement.
4. Enable healthcare providers to diagnose and treat patients quickly and more accurately
When you design experiences that give healthcare providers easy access to patient data and clinical decision support tools, they’re more likely to identify potential issues quickly and make sound treatment decisions.
5. Improve the efficiency of healthcare operations
Good UX can also free up time for healthcare providers to focus on patient care and reduce costs.
For example, a well-designed appointment scheduling system can help reduce wait times and improve patient satisfaction. As you can see below, the AmWell telehealth platform provides a user-friendly interface for video consultations and secure messaging, allowing patients to communicate conveniently with their healthcare providers.
6. Reduce healthcare costs
Finally, when you improve efficiency and reduce errors through exceptional healthcare UX, there's a ripple effect that benefits everyone. Patients experience fewer complications, healthcare providers function more smoothly, and the burden of rising healthcare expenses is greatly reduced.
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10 trends every healthcare UX designer should watch out for
As a healthcare UX designer, staying up-to-date on the latest trends in healthcare is important. Let's take a closer look at several healthcare trends that are poised to make a significant impact in the coming years.
1. AI-powered chatbots
Healthcare is benefitting greatly from the integration of AI-powered technology. AI improves diagnostics, administrative tasks, and patient care by utilizing machine learning algorithms, predictive analytics, and natural language processing to make data-informed decisions and customized treatments.
One practical application of AI is through chatbots. These AI-powered chatbots offer personalized assistance, answer basic health-related questions, and can even triage patients. They’re designed to simulate human-like conversations and provide accurate information using artificial intelligence algorithms. Babylon Health's chatbot and Ada Health's symptom checker are notable examples.
2. Mental health tech
As awareness of mental health grows, more and more smartphone apps and online platforms have emerged to provide support. Some popular examples include Calm and Headspace, which offer meditation and mindfulness exercises, and BetterHelp, which provides online therapy sessions.
3. Vocal biomarkers
Vocal biomarkers use voice analysis to detect and monitor health conditions. With its potential to identify early signs of illnesses like Parkinson's, depression, and respiratory conditions, this innovative approach could be transformative. One company currently developing vocal biomarker technology is Sonde Health.
Telemedicine allows patients to remotely consult with healthcare professionals through video calls or other digital channels.
This technology has gained significant momentum, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the American Medical Association, the number of patients using telehealth in 2022 rose to 25%, exceeding the 5% who accessed it before the pandemic. At its peak, telehealth usage even spiked to 70%.
5. Wearables and self-monitoring apps
Wearable devices and self-monitoring apps have been popular in the healthcare industry for years. Wearables like fitness trackers and smartwatches help you monitor your heart rate, sleep patterns, and activity levels, giving you instant feedback and motivation. Self-monitoring apps on your phone also allow you to track your diet, exercise, and medication, making it easier to stay on top of your health goals.
With a growing focus on preventive care, this trend is only expected to continue, giving individuals more control over their own health management.
6. Digital therapeutics
Digital therapeutics are software-based interventions that help treat medical conditions. They can monitor, coach, and personalize recommendations for patients. Funding for digital therapeutics has increased by 134% from 2020, reaching a total of $8.9 billion in 2021.
One good example of this healthcare trend is RelieVRx™, an FDA-authorized in-home virtual reality treatment to reduce chronic lower back pain.
7. VR and AR
Virtual and augmented reality technologies have the potential to greatly improve outcomes, enhance education, and transform healthcare. They allow for immersive medical training and surgical simulations. Plus, these technologies have the ability to redefine patient experiences by reducing anxiety and making procedures more enjoyable.
8. Digital health tools for pets
Digital health tools aren’t limited to humans alone – there’s a rising trend in developing digital health tools for pets, too. Apps like Whistle and PetPace offer wearable devices for pets that monitor their activity levels, sleep patterns, and overall well-being. This allows pet owners to track and manage their pets’ health.
9. Non-Emergency Medical Transportation (NEMT)
Lack of transportation has always been a major obstacle for people seeking medical care, but companies like Uber Health are working with healthcare organizations to provide Non-Emergency Medical Transportation (NEMT) services and make it easier for patients to access the care they need.
NEMT services are designed to help patients with mobility challenges, disabilities, or medical conditions that make it difficult for them to use traditional modes of transportation. These services are particularly important for older individuals with trouble driving or using public transportation due to mobility challenges or health issues.
10. Voice user interfaces (VUIs)
Voice user interface (VUI) in healthcare is like having a virtual healthcare assistant at all times. It has the power to transform healthcare by allowing patients to use voice commands to access healthcare services, receive customized health coaching, and monitor their health from the comfort of their own homes. It's also hands-free and hygienic, so there's no need to worry about touching any devices or screens.
UX challenges in healthcare design
Now that you're aware of upcoming healthcare trends, let's take a look at the other side of the coin – the challenges that healthcare UX designers may face as they navigate the constantly changing landscape of healthcare trends.
1. Healthcare has a wide variety of users to cater to
One of the significant challenges in healthcare UX is the diverse range of users with varying needs and expectations. Healthcare designers often have to prioritize one group over others – doctors, patients, and other stakeholders – and work with the distinct requirements of each group of users.
For this reason, designing a healthcare UX that caters to the distinct needs of each user group while ensuring overall usability and satisfaction can be a complex task. Finding the right balance requires careful research, user testing, and iterative design processes.
2. Concerns about regulatory compliance, data privacy, and security
The healthcare industry is wary of new technologies due to concerns about complying with regulations, ensuring data privacy, and maintaining security. Strict regulations (like in Fintech UX design) and the need to safeguard sensitive patient information make healthcare organizations hesitant to adopt innovative digital solutions and processes.
Consider a healthcare app that aims to collect patient feedback to enhance the quality of care. Testing the app with actual patients may not be possible due to regulatory constraints, data privacy, and security concerns. This makes it difficult for UX designers to incorporate user feedback and validate the efficacy of their designs.
When it comes to testing with healthcare professionals, it can also be difficult to find appropriate time slots due to their demanding schedules and the critical nature of their work.
Learn more: Why does it take healthcare so long to adopt new technology?
3. Fragmented systems and disconnected applications
Another major obstacle in healthcare UX is managing multiple disconnected systems. The healthcare industry often uses a variety of systems, such as electronic health records (EHRs), medical devices, and various healthcare applications. Different vendors create these systems and they may not work well together, resulting in a less seamless user experience.
Healthcare UX designers can simplify user interactions and promote the efficiency of healthcare applications by designing interfaces that bridge the gaps between these fragmented systems.
4. Complex workflows and processes
Healthcare environments often involve intricate processes involving diverse stakeholders and complex tasks. This can pose a challenge for designers tasked with creating solutions.
"(The) healthcare system is complicated and not readily visible; things like billing processes, shift handoffs, and relationships between people and departments can be hard to grasp," shares McCurdy.
Consider the process of medication reconciliation in a hospital setting. This task involves gathering and verifying a patient's complete medication history, including prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs, and supplements. It requires coordination among healthcare professionals, patients, and pharmacists, as well as access to multiple sources of information like electronic health records and community pharmacies.
5. Long development times
Developing healthcare applications and systems can take a long time. Factors affecting lengthy product development processes include intricate regulatory requirements, rigorous testing, and the need to involve multiple stakeholders such as healthcare professionals, administrators, and regulatory bodies. These stakeholders must ensure these systems meet strict safety, privacy, and data security standards.
To address these challenges, the Nuffield Trust Report recognized seven areas where healthcare organizations can improve. One of these areas is user-centered design founded on UX principles, which involves a deep understanding of user needs to design more accessible, efficient, and inclusive systems in healthcare.
In the next section below, you'll learn about the UX skills and best practices you should consider for a more user-centered approach as a designer in healthcare.
Breaking into healthcare UX design: Required skills and best practices
If you want to break into the healthcare industry as a UX designer, you'll need a combination of the hard and soft skills outlined below.
1. User research
Conducting user research is a key skill you should develop if you're looking to improve the user experience for patients and healthcare providers. McCurdy calls it "investigative detective work".
The information you gather from user research will help you create better healthcare apps and websites that are more user-friendly and helpful for patients and clinicians.
Learn more: How to recruit user research participants
2. Design thinking
Design thinking is a useful problem-solving approach that focuses on developing user-centered solutions. Design thinking can be a game-changer in healthcare because it can be applied to address various problems in the industry, including medication adherence, patient safety, and healthcare accessibility.
Prototyping is creating a working model of your design. You can use prototypes to test your design with users and gather feedback. For example, you may need to design a prototype of a new medication adherence app to test it with patients and determine its ease of use.
Learn more: Top 15 prototyping tools for UX/UI designers
4. Data visualization
As a UX designer in healthcare, you need to be able to turn complex healthcare data into easy-to-understand visuals that are accessible and meaningful. Through your data visualization chops, you and your team can derive actionable insights from the wealth of data you've gathered. It also makes it easier for stakeholders to grasp and interpret your findings quickly.
5. Usability testing
In usability testing, you put your designs to the test and get real user feedback to make them even better. Let's say you’re creating a medication management app for hospital nurses. You gather a group of nurses, let them use the app, and observe how they navigate through it. You talk with them and ask for their thoughts and opinions on what works well and could be improved.
Learn more: How to ask the best usability testing questions
6. Data analysis
Let’s say you're a designer working on an app for diabetic patients. You go through the app’s numbers to find patterns and trends to identify certain activities or foods that might be causing spikes in glucose levels. With this knowledge, you can make the app more user-focused by adding personalized tips and reminders.
7. Facilitating communication among stakeholders
As a healthcare UX designer, engaging with healthcare professionals, administrators, IT teams, and patients to fully comprehend their diverse needs is a must.
You can achieve this by conducting design sprints, stakeholder interviews, workshops, and maintaining open communication. This helps ensure a shared understanding toward creating a design solution that improves the patient experience while meeting business goals at the same time.
Through storytelling, healthcare designers can inspire and empower users to act positively toward their well-being. For example, you can incorporate user testimonials and relatable scenarios when designing a mental health support app to engage users and showcase the app's value.
Recommended reading list for UX designers looking to work in healthcare:
Healthcare + Design: Highlights healthcare companies and startups that value design
HSxD: Healthcare Systems by Design: More information on challenges, best practices, and case studies from designers working in healthcare systems
Want to learn more about the basics of UX design first? Check out our list of 30 top UX design courses and bootcamps.
Improve people's well-being by building user-centered design with the help of Lyssna
Healthcare UX design has its own challenges, but with the right skills and tools, you can overcome them and be a part of innovative teams shaping the future of healthcare.
Lyssna is one of those tools that every healthcare design team should have in their UX toolkit. Sign up for a free Lyssna plan and see how easy it is to uncover user needs through its comprehensive suite of user research and testing tools.
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Frequently asked questions about healthcare UX design
Kai has been creating content for healthcare, design, and SaaS brands for over a decade. She also manages content (like a digital librarian of sorts). Hiking in nature, lap swimming, books, tea, and cats are some of her favorite things. Check out her digital nook or connect with her on LinkedIn.
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