This is the 2nd post in this series. Part 1
Design to Specific Patient Personas
Most patient software was not designed with the right users in mind. Many patient portals actually feature screens that were originally designed for clinicians. Clinician-facing systems, such as EHRs, already exist and developers often borrow an area from the existing interface and simply expose it to patients via the web with little to no redesign. Unfortunately, patients do not normally engage well with interfaces designed for clinicians.
Even if the software was designed from the ground up for patients, the work is often done with a typical patient in mind. In reality, there is no such thing as a ‘typical’ patient; the requirements of a healthy person who visits a doctor once or twice per year will differ greatly from those of a patient with a chronic condition.
Instead of designing for a generic patient, software developers must identify the key patient personas found among the system’s user base. While patients vary greatly in age, health, income, and comfort level with technology, those with common characteristics can be grouped together to create profiles — called personas — that reflect particular attributes, needs and goals. These personas must guide the design and development of the software in order for it to be valuable and actively used.
Determine primary personas
By using formal user research techniques, you can identify the most common user groups and usability goals, and prioritize your patient software’s features accordingly. These user research techniques could include:
• User Interviews, Focus Groups and Surveys to uncover actual user goals and opinions.
• Field Research that identifies (through observation) how users interact with physicians or existing patient software in the real world.
• Usage Scenario Definitions that model “a day in the life” of particular patient types.
Aim to identify the most prevalent personas and then determine the primary personas for your application. Solutions that cater to more than a handful of personas tend to be “watered-down” and fail to address the most important needs effectively. Many poorly-designed EMRs, for example, try to please 15 different physician specialties but end up not meeting any individual doctor’s needs. As with EMRs, patient software needs to provide real value to a few specific, but prominent, groups.
Focus on specific goals
The ultimate goal of user research and the persona exercise is to determine the needs and goals of your target audience: what is this specific patient type trying to achieve? What are his or her motivations, concerns and context? What terminology would this patient use? These focused goals should drive the evolution of the patient software.
Let’s imagine your software is focused primarily on patients with congestive heart failure. The results of user research might suggest the following as being most important to the product:
• The ability to organize health records, including medication reconciliation (91 percent);
• The availability of online calendars and reminders (74 percent);
• Access to personalized health education (71 percent);
• Access to community services (69 percent);
• The ability to communicate online with providers and health plans (60 percent);
• The ability to manage health care costs (57 percent).
By identifying specific needs, you can start to map out a design that will directly address those particular user requirements.
Evolve the design to match the personas
Once you have identified both the primary personas for your patient software and their needs and goals, we recommend defining key usage scenarios that are illustrated through visual concepts called “low fidelity prototypes. You can test these concepts with real-world patients in order to guide the development and evolution of the software. Consult our user research reference material or seek the advice of a User Experience (UX) professional with credentials in human-computer interaction design.
It may sound simple, but the first step to creating truly engaging patient software is to determine who you are engaging, and satisfy that group of users exceptionally well.
About the Author
Lorraine Chapman is a management and User Experience Research professional at Macadamian Technologies. In addition to her role as Director of User Experience Research, Ms. Chapman has provided a broad range of clients (within the Healthcare, Telecommunications, Government, and Finance sectors) with strategic direction on business, product and customer issues. This experience includes product value analysis, user requirements research (both qualitative and quantitative) and usability analysis/evaluation of websites, services (eCommerce and eBusiness), applications, software, hardware and documentation. Lorraine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org