A Guide to User-Centered Healthcare Software Design and Development

Creating UX Storyboards

Storyboards are another great tool for visualizing a user’s experience of a product throughout the day. They are pictorial (think of cartoon story frames), and are used to illustrate high- level product use scenarios.

In general, they focus on the workflow rather than the interaction with technology, to understand how best to fit the technology into the user’s routine. Storyboards visualize where there are risks for error, when, where and how user frustration can take hold as the day wears on, and when fatigue sets in. They can be centered on a theme, such as an interruption storyboard that highlights the distractions and interruptions users face during the use of a product. They can easily illustrate issues like ambient noise or lighting in clearly articulated and easily understood ways.

They are small, easily digestible talking points and efficiently highlight a particular impact on a product’s use. In a few short story frames you can communicate a big picture idea on distractibility and usability. This makes it easy for the design team to see where technology could help healthcare professionals become more interruption-tolerant, and help them appreciate how distractions impact a person’s ability to absorb information, particularly from different screens. This allows for more holistic designs that fit within a broader context of long-term use.

Storyboards can be used in different places throughout the user experience design process depending on the goals. They are as useful in the beginning of the process as they are towards the end, depending on what use case you wish to illustrate.

To help you see what storyboards are and how they can be used, we’ve created a visual example of an interruption storyboard that is a snapshot of a physician’s day.

Let’s walk through it so you can see how simple picture frames and one line story statements, all illustrated with a stress meter, can easily surface key pain points in a physician’s workflow. Put together correctly, a storyboard can quickly highlight interruptions and often focus attention on two or three frames where a design team can make improvements to improve usability and reduce stress.

Storyboard Panel

Our doctor is in the middle of his routine, and is getting ready to enter a patient’s room. To prep before entering he reviews the patient’s history on his tablet, drilling into the person’s medication list, health concerns, allergies, and recent lab work. At this point he’s highly focused and once he’s reviewed the information to his satisfaction, he goes to enter the room.

Storyboard Panel

Before he can enter the room, a nurse walks up and asks a question about a prior patient he saw earlier that day. Distracted he initially responds yes, and then decides he’d like to do a closer review of the patient’s chart. He returns to his workstation, logs in, and searches for the patient’s history.

Storyboard Panel

As the Doctor looks up the last patient, we see him searching for the patient’s records and then navigating through multiple charts to find the information he’s interested in.

Storyboard Panel

After reviewing several files, the doctor notes the patient had the shot a couple years ago and does not need it again because the other criteria does not match. He makes a note on the file for the nurse and logs out.

His focus returns to the first patient again.

Storyboard Panel

On the way back to see the patient he’d started with before getting interrupted, his beeper goes off. It is a phone call from the pharmacy. The call is urgent due to a prescription refill, and the prescription is not qualifying under the plan. The doctor needs to review this patient’s records now and determine whether he wishes to get prior authorization or find a substitute.

Storyboard Panel

He returns to his workstation, logs in, conducts another search for the patient and starts another review of documents. This patient is getting a prescription filled and the prescription is not qualifying under their insurance plan. The Doctor has to get prior authorization or find a substitute.

Storyboard Panel

The doctor reviews the alternates, find many also don’t qualify and begins to consider obtaining prior authorization from the insurance company. His focus and stress levels are at a high as this is a larger problem that needs an immediate solution and he has a patient waiting.

An interruption scoreboard like this can help emphasize to the development team opportunities to make the doctor’s day more interruption-tolerant. They can then start to consider ways to help the doctor better handle interruptions, either with strategies to save partial work or lessen the degree he has to backtrack or start over on reviews.

In the End

As you can tell, that even though it’s 13 short story frames, a lot of information is conveyed through a storyboard. The key here is to clearly illustrate the amount of effort or focus the doctor has in the midst of a regular block of time in his day. It illustrates the impact on decision-making and how the doctor needs to gather data to help make informed decisions. Throughout the doctor is moving between several tools, tablet, desktop, and beeper, and also interacting with a nurse. The storyboard illustrates the different modes of interruption and data gathering clearly.

This example shows a snapshot of a doctor’s day, but this same idea can be used during the design process for a variety of healthcare applications. Something like this can also benefit hospital administrators and hospital informatics groups. Often applications and decisions around usage are made in isolation of real-world conditions or applicability. We can look at a specific tool for a specific use (such as a tablet for viewing that day’s patient records in a queue) and not the big picture. The storyboard puts the usage within the broader context.


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