The patient-centric approach to digital healthcare is here to stay, and it is rapidly changing how organisations think about digital health and medical technology design and development. Its advent marks a steep change and a tectonic shift in the way digital health systems are built. How not to get left behind?
Patient centric design can radically improve access to care, empower patients through self-management digital tools, and support long-term behaviour change. This can be achieved by prioritizing the understanding of patient needs, preferences, and values; incorporating patient input into the design and delivery processes; and leveraging contextual factors such as social determinants of health when designing your next MedTech solution.
In this article, we will explore how patient-centric UX design strategies can help drive better outcomes for patients, caregivers, and healthcare professionals, while ensuring patient adoption and engagement with digital health technologies. In the world of hyper-engaging mobile apps crowding patients' phones and smartwatches, it's key to stay relevant to your patients' needs.
Before anything else, understand the patient's needs, preferences, and values
When designing and developing patient-centred digital health solutions, it is essential first to understand patients' needs, preferences, ambitions, and values. This helps create digital health and well-being solutions that make it easier for people to access information and care, help them manage their own health better, and work on long-term behaviour changes.
To do this well, we need both patient and health professionals input and knowledge of social factors that can affect health and behaviour. Design tools such as Personas, Value Proposition Canvas, Jobs To Be Done, Patient Journey mapping, and patient/customer research UX methods should be used to help emphatize with patients, grant a patient-centric perspective on the services designed, and uncover patient insights.
These methods focus on collecting data directly from users and leveraging real-world situations to understand better patient needs, preferences, and values and the broader context of use. Such efforts enable not just the designers, but the whole project team to immerse in the patient's world and have a much deeper comprehension of how new technologies will affect the end users' wellbeing, experiences, and lives.
Incorporate a wider context into the design of your digital health solution
To design a patient-centric digital health technology, UX researchers and designers can use a variety of qualitative and quantitative tools to uncover patient and caregiver insights. Typically, it's valuable to confirm the results of qualitative research with qualitative studies, even if limited in scale.
Patient associations, and informal online groups, e.g. #dedoc for people with diabetes, often play a significant role in providing both access and auxiliary information that yields a more profound situational understanding. Interviews can be conducted with patients and healthcare professionals to understand patient needs. Surveys and polls are then often used to collect opinions on how users perceive digital products or services related to healthcare, feeling and well-being.
It’s also often essential to observe the patient's behaviour in their everyday environment and conduct usability tests with prototypes or early product or service simulations. Here, tools such as diary studies and contextual inquiries can be very helpful. This helps digital health technology designers understand how patients interact with their digital health solutions in real-time and make necessary adjustments before the design and development of the product or service starts.
You might discover that even though you aim focus on a web portal o website, the patients you want to help naturally reach for their mobile phones in most of the considered use contexts. Understanding the totality of the patient's journey and experiences throughout the healing and rehabilitation process is key to the success of a digital technology solution.
Who else needs to be considered?
To understand the whole spectrum of forces that play a role in patient's experience, it's important to map out the complete stakeholder landscape for your solution. This could typically involve:
Caregivers and family
GPs and doctors who supply post-care information and checks
Payors and insurers
Mind the social determinants and wider situational awareness
Social determinants are the conditions in which people live that influence their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Factors such as income level, access to healthy food options, housing quality, and educational opportunities can all contribute to the overall health outcomes of individuals within a population. By taking into account those factors when designing digital health solutions, designers can ensure that these solutions are tailored appropriately for specific populations and address any potential access gaps that may exist due to economic disparities.
In addition to understanding patient needs, preferences, and values through UX research methods mentioned above, the patient-centred design also calls for at least a rudimentary understanding of social determinants of health, compliance and regulatory affairs, and the risks involved. There is no "global health" – healthcare professionals, medical devices, electronic health records and digital health systems follow country-specific regulations, and patients and caregivers have quite diverse and different needs depending on the culture and socio-economic situation they find themselves in.
Tailor personalized interventions to individual patient levels of motivation or capability
The healthcare industry has historically favoured a 'one size fits all' antiquated model, mainly because of its institution-focused processes. Today, however, most modern digital therapeutics will learn from your behaviour and personalise your treatment based on collected data, and that trend will only deepen. Personalized digital interventions tailored to patient levels of motivation and capability can significantly improve both the level of adoption and engagement with the solutions and the health outcomes for individual patients.
For deeper personalization and efficacy, it is important to consider factors such as age range, education level, literacy level, language preferences, physical abilities, digital technology access level, socio-economic status and social determinants of health mentioned before. Here, ethnographic study methods can come in handy.
These interventions can also be designed using patient-centric principles and Design Thinking methods. For example, patient journey mapping allows designers to identify potential pain points specific to pre-identified user groups and so-called Personas, and opportunities for improvement in patient experience throughout the healthcare journey.
Maximise engagement with gamification and feedback loops
Furthermore, personalized medicine solutions need to be designed to maximise engagement by providing a positive experience through intuitive user interfaces (UI) and content personalization. This could include features such as gamification techniques or other interactive elements that make it easier for people with different levels of motivation, mental health or capability to comply with treatment plans.
Additionally, providing clear goal-setting options that display progress towards achieving goals could help motivate users through positive reinforcement techniques. To further ensure effective engagement with personalized digital interventions tailored towards different patient levels of motivation or capability, designers should also consider incorporating both patient and healthcare professionals' feedback loops into the development process to monitor usage trends and evaluate user sentiment over time continuously.
Accessibility also plays a major role in designing for individual motivation or capability
Taking accessibility into account is key to ensuring that the patient can use the solution without any barriers or digital exclusion. This includes making the user interface intuitive and easy to navigate, that users are able to control how their personal data is used, and that users can access the content in a variety of ways depending on their individual needs.
To create a truly patient-centric digital health care solution, designers should consider universal design principles such as usability for all age ranges, literacy levels and physical abilities. This could include features like voice commands for those with limited mobility or visual impairments, adjustable text sizes and colours for dyslexic users, or language translations for speakers of different native tongues. Incorporating these features into digital health solutions makes them accessible to more people and increases their overall value in improving health.
Compliance, privacy, data protection and GDPR – as always a standard
We could not have considered digital health technology without mentioning that designers should naturally pay attention to the patient’s physical environment and the digital environment with which patients and their digital health technologies interact. Designers working with medical devices should be aware of standards such as IEC 62366-1 and IEC 62366-2 to guide them in the application of usability engineering to medical devices.
Minding the bigger regulatory perspective when designing a new solution is also important. Ensuring digital health solutions comply with local laws and regulations helps protect patient data from unauthorized access. Additionally, it is always important and required to make sure that third-party services and off-the-shelf system configurations are securely integrated into any digital health solution to prevent potential data breaches or other malicious activities.
Finally, patient privacy must always be kept in mind when developing patient-centric digital health solutions. Solution architects, but also designers, should ensure that patients have full control over how their personal data is used and stored by implementing strict consent policies as well as necessary security protocols such as encryption algorithms and two-factor authentication systems in digital technologies.
Work with healthcare-conscious partners to deliver faster
Being mindful of the FDA/MDR or NHS regulations in the digital health and care system, medical records, assessment of the impact of design decisions on regulated procedures, the risk management process described in ISO 14971, effects of changes on the audit trail, and all connected issues are not strictly required for the experience design phase, but working with a design partner that has those in mind, does help to avoid many pitfalls easily.
In the following posts, we'll explore the various methods for conducting lean patient research in digital health solution design and the unique challenges that Design Thinking methods face in the healthcare field.
Additional resources to consider: