While the healthcare industry may have been comparatively slower in embracing the latest technologies, the challenges faced in recent times has gone a long way in paving the way to promote new ways of thinking and using technology in healthcare. For example, the recent COVID pandemic brought to light the need to provide distance-healthcare, provide better patient tracking, and contact tracing.
Healthcare technology covers a vast area from applications, including hospital wide systems that track a patient's medical history from birth, to apps such as the COVID tracing app, or fitness apps. We will focus only on UX related to healthcare applications, and will not be looking at all the highly specialised technologies and instruments used at hospitals and clinics.
UX in healthcare technology
There are many new healthcare applications being introduced to the market or under development. These applications are aimed at improving patient care, tracking patient health, digitising medical services and administrative and communication processes. Many hospitals and clinics are looking for new ways to treat people at a distance, and provide the ability to receive primary care without even coming to the hospital premises. While many new applications are being developed, and they are certainly proving useful, there is little concern given to the actual usability and user experience of these applications. In this space, we need to apply UX principles to ensure that not only are these applications functional, but also bring together core concepts in UX to ensure that they provide the best experience possible. To get here, applications must
Solve a problem - This is usually checked off by any development team
Be eminently usable - Be easy to use and learn
Be accessible and inclusive - Especially in healthcare where the person using the application may have some disadvantages illness
Bring joy - This can be a little hard to include in our design, but hopefully, we have helped the user to solve a problem easily and that brings them joy.
Let's discuss a few examples of emerging or existing trends in healthcare and how they can be improved through the proper application of UX principles.
Practical examples of UX in healthcare
Remote consultations or Telemedicine
Telemedecine refers to the practice of using communication technology to examine a patient and provide necessary care, at a distance. Essentially, patients can consult a healthcare professional from the comfort of their own homes. Removing both the stress and time taken to travel and sit in a waiting room somewhere.
This technology proves invaluable during pandemic situations, where you want to reduce the chance of cross infection as much as possible, while providing care for as many people as possible. Especially during illness like COVID, where symptoms include draining fatigue making it more difficult for patients to attend physical consultations.
When designing these applications UX designers need to pay special attention to the varied user groups that will be making use of them. A good UX strategy needs to take into consideration the users age, health, stress and mental state, and level of technical skill.
Electronic health records
While electronic health records are not a new phenomenon, they have evolved to bring new features to users. Traditionally EHR, were simply used by hospitals to reduce the amount of paperwork and increase the efficiency of finding patient information. The unfortunate reality of the situation is that while these tools exist, in many hospitals it's still common to see physicians walk into a patient's room with a physical file in hand, rather than a tablet.
By conducting a thorough UX study of this system, how it works in the real world, in various scenarios, it will be possible for UX engineers to make improvements in the design to allow these systems to be used, not only for administrative purposes, but in day to day healthcare as well. Additionally, many of these tools can provide important functions further increasing their value and usability, such as notifying patients when they have upcoming appointments or need to refill their prescriptions.
Screening and contact tracing
This type of application rose to prominence during the recent pandemic. Many users downloaded screening apps to keep track of their tests and vaccinations results. The apps themselves proved extremely useful in facilitating access to multiple venues and travel that required proof of vaccination. In a short span of time we saw different versions of the app appear, each one with more functionality than the last... however many of them sadly lacked in terms of usability. The apps were not very intuitive, and were famously cluttered with information. Good information to have no doubt, but cluttered nevertheless. In many cases their onboarding process also left a lot to be desired.
Other technologies to think about
There are many more up and coming technologies and even more that are currently in use, but can do with a UX overhaul. These include:
Wearables - such as smart watches, that can monitor your general health, including pulse and heartbeat etc
Virtual reality applications - that can help train the next generation of healthcare professionals
Virtual assistants - while they are currently used for tasks such as booking appointments, or connecting patients with specialists, medical bots may soon be able do initial diagnostics etc.
Medical technology is improving by leaps and bounds. Many new technologies and applications are constantly developed and improved to enhance a patient's quality of life while helping healthcare professionals to do their job more efficiently. While many of these applications focus deeply on the functionality they provide, less focus is given to the UX of the applications. This leads to an unfortunate lack of usability for both patients and doctors.
To remedy this situation, it is important to invest in proper UX design before development and ensure that applications not only meet functional requirements, but also the needs and expectations of users.
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