Drive Patient Engagement
Once you have identified a specific set of primary patient users, it’s time to determine what will engage those patients and keep them returning. What information and features will they value most? How must that information be presented initially and over time? While this information will vary from patient group to patient group, our researchers have compiled a list of the most important guiding principles for driving long-term patient engagement.
1. Present the information that the *patient* cares about
A recent study by Sharp Rees-Stealy found that the four most frequently accessed areas of a portal by a patient differ completely from those accessed by a clinician. In the study, patients indicated they were most interested in booking appointments online, engaging in secure messaging with a provider’s office and viewing lab tests. Your patient research may or may not match those particular findings, but if your interface does not present a clear path to the information patients are most interested in, they can become frustrated and are less likely to interact regularly with the system.
2. Provide *immediate* value to the patient during the interaction
For illustrative purposes, let’s explore how a patient with Type 2 Diabetes might use patient software. If she needs to enter a blood glucose reading, she will not be content to simply enter the data. She will want to identify trends, see correlations with her activity levels or what she ate for lunch, and understand the implications. She may wonder “Should I call my doctor?”, “Is this a normal reading?”, “If not, what should I do?”.
Patients with a chronic illness may deal with a large number of providers and wish to keep track of all of their names, upcoming appointments and recent communications via the software. If your system can provide added value beyond simply housing information, you will be able to ensure satisfaction and uptake.
Kaiser Permanente’s My Health Manager is an example of a system whose features provide immediate value to target users. A table on Kaiser Permanente’s website FAQ, meant to show the portal’s growing user base, turns out to be a wonderful illustration of features that are resonating with users such as online prescription refill, appointment requests and access to health information resources:
3. Ensure that patients can *relate* to the information
In a very real sense, patients and clinicians speak a different language. A doctor can quickly recognize a high cholesterol number, but a patient may have no way to interpret whether a figure is high or low. When designing your interface, implement tools (such as color coding or a dashboard, perhaps) that will help patients interpret and understand the metrics they find in their online file. It’s not good enough to simply reflect data back to the patient — the patient needs to know what that data means and its implications.
4. Include *next steps* and patient goal tracking
While a physician might be content with simply knowing that a future appointment has been scheduled, a patient will want to know when that appointment will take place. Moreover, a patient with a chronic ailment may want to track his progress over time and the ways in which he’s contributing to his own healthcare via exercise of alternative treatments. If a user can see (via visual graphics) that he’s losing weight or lowering his blood pressure, he will be more likely to return frequently to the software..
5. Give patients other reasons to return
Many patients think the idea of patient software “sounds” great, but quickly abandon it after their initial interaction. It’s is worthless if patients aren’t entering data on a regular basis, or using it at all. Consult your persona and user research findings to hone in on areas that give users a reason to come back to the software again and again. These could include:
• An automatic trigger. If a patient has an upcoming appointment with a specialist, the system could send a message via e-mail or phone. Or, if the system knows a patient has Diabetes, it could send reminders to enter a glucose reading.
• Links to existing patient apps, programs and systems. Many patients already use some sort of monitoring device — be it a step counter, a glucose monitor, etc. If a patient is able to upload readings directly from a medical device or mobile phone, that will encourage use and add value by reducing the amount of data entry required.
• Real-time access to health info. If a patient has just finished an appointment but has forgotten the proper dosage for the new medication prescribed, that user will want to check the portal immediately upon returning home. If the data does not appear, the patient can become frustrated. Note that according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, up to 80% of patients forget what their doctor said as soon as they leave the clinic, and nearly 50% of what patients remember is incorrect.
• Provide access to communities and forums. Patients often seek out other patients with a similar ailment for advice and comfort. If possible, consider ways to link your patient software to popular communities and forums such as http://www.patientslikeme.com/ or, at a minimum, recommend appropriate forums based on the patient data.
• Allow mobile access. A user who has just checked his blood pressure at a drugstore may want to immediately input that data instead of waiting until he gets home. Consult your patient personas and user research to determine whether a mobile version of your patient software would be of value and, if so, which components of the software would be most useful.
6. Address specific user fears/concerns
Your user research activities may uncover specific patient concerns or reasons why patients have not used patient software in the past. Some common concerns include:
• Privacy/Security: “Who will be accessing my data and what information will they see?”
• Payment: “Will I need to pay some sort of subscription fee?”
• Technology: “I’m not good with computers — what happens if I make a mistake or need help?”
• Accessibility: “I’m not well enough to access the system regularly.” Or “I don’t have access to a computer.”
• Patient/Doctor Relationship: Some patients may be concerned a portal will hinder communication with their physician. For example, if I spend time inputting information, will my doctor rely on this data rather than a face-to-face meeting or telephone conversation?
7. Make the software “first-use-friendly”
It is particularly important to design the interface in a way that first-time users can access what they need quickly and easily. Patients, in particular, can be easily turned off by a bad first impression and may not return.
To ensure an interface is usable for both first-time and repeat visitors, consider engaging experts to perform interaction design and usability testing— particularly for the primary, high frequency or critical tasks. Usability experts can test an existing design and provide recommendations on how the UI can be improved.
Our white paper, 9 Usability Mistakes Your Team is Probably Making (and How to Fix Them) offers insight in to the most common usability errors in the Healthcare industry. Even if your solution addresses the needs of its key patient groups and actively engages them, it can still fail if it is ignored by clinicians. Our next recommendation examines the ways in which you need to encourage patient software buy-in from clinicians.
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