Posted by Mike Carlon on Mar 16, 2020 12:46:17 PM

This past October, I found myself in a room at Holy Cross Hospital in Ft. Lauderdale after my eighty-seven-year-old father had a significant health scare and spent some time in the intensive care unit. Upon discharge, the nurse recommended he download an app where he could not only keep track of his numerous follow-up appointments, but also read about his newly diagnosed condition, keep track of his medications, and view the results of the various tests he was put through.

What could have taken me a matter of minutes to accomplish led to significant annoyance for my father, who was adamant about setting up the app independently. First, the screen size on his phone was too small, so he struggled to read the instructions. Then, he had trouble entering user information, such as his assigned username and temporary password, due to limited finger dexterity. Additionally, the new password requirements were complex and unclear, which caused a seemingly never-ending password creation loop.

A lightbulb went off in my head—most of the people I saw in that hospital were senior citizens and all of them were living in an increasingly digital world. This has significant implications not only for healthcare practitioners who are encouraging digital interactions, but for pharmaceutical companies looking to educate patients about treatment options. These brands have a ripe opportunity to delight and increase loyalty amongst this key population, but need user research to understand the possibilities.

Many Americans rely on sites like WebMD and Mayo Clinic to research various ailments and symptoms before seeking medical help. According to PharmaVoice, over 95 Million Americans search for health topics online. Lest you think that number only comprises those of us who have lived most of our lives in the information age, consider that according to the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, 58% of Americans 65+ seek healthcare information online.

Accenture Research found that 83% of seniors think they should have full access to their electronic health records, 68% want to request prescription refills electronically, and 62% believe it is somewhat or very important to be able to book appointments online. Seniors want to engage with HCPs, pharmacies, and drug companies digitally, but many, like my father, face challenges when trying to do so.

So how can you meet their needs and provide an experience that sparks delight rather than frustration? Creating effective and easy to use healthcare experiences can provide countless benefits for many in our community. 

When evaluating healthcare and pharmaceutical user experiences, take these considerations into account:


1. Reevaluate who you screen out

Many user research studies screen out people with vision impairments or other physical or sensory impairments, assuming they will have a more difficult time navigating the experience and providing useful feedback. We feel this is actually counterintuitive as disabilities and impairments like these are common in populations that rely on healthcare experiences. Including them in your research helps identify ways those experiences can be optimized for an important segment of your end-users.

2. BYOD (Bring Your Own Device)

We often provide test devices for participants to use when evaluating websites, prototypes, apps, etc. The spirit of doing so is to ensure that all participants have the same experience so that results can be compared between users with as little variation as possible. However, participants with accessibility needs may have customized settings on their personal devices, enabling them to interact with the device more easily. Some may use screen readers to help them hear the information on the screen instead of reading it. Allowing users to bring their own devices to use in sessions will lead to richer “real-world” feedback for how they will experience your product in their natural environment.

3. Consider remote research

In specific therapeutic areas (i.e. Crohn's disease, Multiple Sclerosis, and sometimes Oncology), it is more challenging to conduct research in-person. These patients have limited mobility, may need to use the restroom frequently, and as a result, tend to socially distance themselves from others. Consider ways in which you can conduct research remotely to include these populations. Many research methodologies from IDIs to focus groups to exploratory research can be easily conducted remotely via video conferencing tools and other platforms. Make sure to work with your recruiter to help “walk-in” participants join the remote session and navigate technology.

Given recent concerns about the spread of COVID-19, we’ve released a number of best practices for remote research in our Guide to Remote Research.

4. Create contextual disabilities

By thinking about how others with physical or sensory limitations experience your product during the design process, you’ll build empathy for your users and think of new approaches you hadn’t previously considered. This can be accomplished by wearing glasses designed to blur vision or using a device in sunlight or low light to mimic what people with visual impairments might experience when navigating a digital experience. You can also wear gloves to impair dexterity or attempt to use a device with only one hand or the less dominant hand. These ideas can also be used when conducting a heuristic evaluation of an existing site or experience. Attempting to complete everyday digital tasks with some kind of contextual impairment will not only help you build empathy for somebody with accessibility challenges, but you might uncover ways to optimize an experience without having to interview anybody.

Think beyond screens

Increasingly, people are using digital assistants such as Alexa and Siri to search for information hands-free. In a study we conducted on voice and healthcare, we found 54% of respondents were interested in using voice to get health information and 48% were interested using voice to learn safety information about their prescriptions.

Google even targeted an ad campaign for Google Assistant specifically towards senior citizens or consumers with senior parents. Older adults can benefit greatly from voice assistants that can help them accomplish their goals and maintain their autonomy. Last year, we released our research-based best practices for researching and designing for aging populations with this in mind. Given that health is a popular search topic across populations, any UX research conducted in the healthcare space should consider a voice component.

The Opportunity for Digital Healthcare

There is no stopping the trend of healthcare going digital. HCPs are encouraging patients to book appointments and check medical records through digital channels. Patients increasingly want to fulfill prescriptions, explore symptoms, and learn about conditions using computers, mobile phones, and voice assistants. Pharmaceutical companies direct people online to learn more about their drug therapies.

Consumers have a high bar for digital experiences because of existing online shopping, banking, and technology experiences. Especially given the recent spread of COVID-19 across the globe, people are looking for digital options to get health answers and connect with their health providers without leaving their homes. To make the right first impression and meet users’ needs, invest in inclusive UX research. Not only will it bring increased satisfaction among your users, but it will also lead to healthier outcomes for patients and more efficiencies for health care professionals. 

Need help navigating your digital healthcare experiences? Contact us.

Topics: Research, Pharmaceutical