As UX researchers, our primary goal is to conduct research in a way that yields useful and meaningful data that can then be acted upon to make informed decisions and guide next steps in UX design. Ensuring that you are effectively conducting research to obtain valuable data is crucial, as it can mitigate risk and save time and money.
We all know that one of the contributing factors for successful user research is involving the right research participants. This does not change when it comes to healthcare products, systems, or services that are meant for ‘everyone’, like patient portals. In this article, I will walk you through some things to keep in mind when considering who to include as test participants when conducting UX research for healthcare.
How closely should your research participants match the intended audience?
Casting a wide net when recruiting participants ensures your product is clear and easy to use for just about anyone. On the other hand, getting super specific with your requirements ensures your niche product is evaluated by individuals with the correct prior knowledge and expertise. Bottom line: make sure you select the research audience type that best reflects the intended audience.
For example, during our recent research work in investigating conceptual designs for various patient portals, we needed to identify usability problems early on in the design cycles and therefore, did not require large sample sizes in our studies. This meant that we needed to get very specific with our requirements and seek out particular potential end users of the applications.
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Designing products for ‘everyone’ and identifying usability problems
It may seem contradictory that we needed specific users involved in our research for evaluating software applications that are meant for ‘everyone’. In the research work I previously mentioned, ‘everyone’ included adults of any age that required or desired healthcare support via a patient portal.
Seeking out specific users helped ensure that the concept designs could support users with special, albeit common, needs such as:
- Participants that are currently patients themselves or caregivers of those currently receiving medical attention.
- Participants that are managing acute and chronic problems for themselves or someone else such as:
- Flu, acute sports injuries, and back, leg and knee pain.
- Cancer, anxiety disorder, asthma, migraines, osteoporosis, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, dementia, MS, and diabetes.
How to recruit ‘patients’ for your UX research
As in any UX research, researchers must always keep in mind that participants are real people with real feelings who are contributing to the product design and development. In the case where research participants are under stress and/ or experiencing unpredictable health conditions, there are additional challenges researchers must take into consideration when recruiting.
First, as you require more specific characteristics of your research participants, the level of recruitment effort (time and cost) increases. Second, as you require more sensitive populations in your research, your level of empathy, patience, perseverance and flexibility must increase.
To understand who you should consider, go through the typical steps of outlining the characteristics you are looking to recruit. Once you have that information, some creative ways you can find individuals that are currently patients are by:
- Posting flyers at healthcare clinics, hospital and other institutions.
- Finding champions or influencers from the product/ development teams, within one of the institutions, conferences, events, or patient blogs and communities.
- Connecting to online communities yourself.
- Reaching out to friends or family.
These have shown to be successful recruiting methods, but ensure you start the process early and certainly recruit more than you require, as participants’ health-related issues can disrupt your research schedule.
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Why recruit patients who may be difficult to include in research activities?
Despite the intimidating recruitment effort, it is imperative to include patients with unique or challenging cases so that design teams can acquire a full understanding of these types of users and their context. These patients and their caregivers challenge design and development teams’ assumptions about managing health conditions, what daily routines include, and what emotions may be at a particular point in time. Involving patients with more challenging characteristics allows for the right product, service, or system to be built with an emphasis on the right features.
On another note, it is often an honour for teams to acquire information from these patients first-hand, as this information is typically difficult to get because it can be painful and/ or private.
What have we learned from including the right ‘patients’?
Connecting with these specific types of users have allowed our teams to learn and design for differences between people at various stages of their care. Differences can be seen in such aspects as:
- Motivations (e.g. someone who has difficulty sticking to their medication regimen).
- Physical capabilities (e.g. someone undergoing cancer treatment that causes eye sensitivity).
- Mental capabilities (e.g. someone struggling with self-management and maintenance of their own health or someone else’s).
Gathering this kind of well-rounded data is critical to developing a product that is effective, efficient, and likely to be adopted by your desired users.
You Might Also Like: 5 UX Research Blockades and How to Break Through.
How can Macadamian help?
Macadamian has a team of specialists that are experienced in UX research and design, in the healthcare industry and also in other complex domains. We are equipped to help you conduct research that is inclusive, detailed, and provides the insight necessary to develop a successful product. Take a look at what UX services we offer and the user experience work we’ve done in our various case studies.
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