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12 ways to improve the healthcare user experience

Brian Eastwood | April 9, 2013
Technology is a great way to engage patients in managing their health, but poor design--whether it's a bad interface or an app that doesn't meet patients' needs--often stands in the way. These 12 tips will help designers and developers improve the user experience for patients who want to improve their health.

To that end, stage 2 of meaningful use, which goes into effect next year, requires EHR vendors to apply user-centered design principles to eight EHR certification criteria.

Remember That Millennials Are Brats

The young men and women of Generation Y and the millennial generation-roughly those born after the late 1970s-have been described as selfish brats. It's not untrue, says Sean Brennan, senior envisioner for the consultancy Continuum.

"We're brats because it's easier to create a 500-person event on Facebook than to make a doctor's appointment. We're brats because you charge so many hidden fees for that STD test when [we were] just trying to do the right thing," Brennan says-when, at the same time, "I can order a pizza from bed and watch the status bar tell me how close it is to being ready."

Continuum's research shows that millennials care about wellness, Brennan says, to the point that diet, fitness and (increasingly alternative) treatment regimens become part of their identity. Healthcare, on the other hand, is deemed an expensive, political system valuable only in emergencies, a government program that costs as much as a luxury service.

Healthcare organizations can improve the way millennials view their industry by fostering collaborative relationships that treat patients like partners and give them tools to track their progress toward achieving a health goal, Brennan says. Such apps should resemble Fandango, Uber and STD Triage, which lets patients take photos of rashes and have them anonymously reviewed by doctors. This last example shows that millennials have embraced openness and shed concerns about privacy, so anything that makes a healthcare network feel even more like a maze of secrecy will simply fall flat.

Don't Confuse Web Literacy and Health Literacy

Opposite millennials on the technology spectrum are the various segments of the population classified as "Web illiterate." They may be older, less educated and more likely to suffer from a chronic health condition, but that doesn't mean they're unwilling to use the Web to access health information, says Sandy Hilfiker, principal and director of user-centered design at CommunicateHealth.

To engage these types of users, go to the source, Hilfiker says. Use proxy measures to screen participants, narrowing your search to, say, those who don't regularly look for information online, and then go to them at senior centers or community centers. As you test your apps, revise them and repeat the process, limit the number of tasks that participants will do, lest they become overwhelmed, and don't forget that cash incentives can't hurt, she says.

Don't Forget That Typography Matters

The best patient education resources in the world mean nothing if no one bothers to read them. That's why typography matters, says Molly McLeod, creative director of CommunicateHealth. McLeod offers several tips make information easier for patients to read:

  • Sans serif fonts are better for the Web. Type size should be at least 16, with an easy-to-use widget for making text bigger near at hand.
  • Lines of text shouldn't exceed 75 characters (roughly 15 words). Line height should be at least 140 percent so there's white space between each line.
  • Headlines and subheads should get progressively smaller. Paragraphs should be short, with spaces between them. Bulleted lists are your friends.


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