At Wellpepper, we work hard to make sure our software is intuitive, including working with external academic researchers on randomized control trials for people who may have cognitive or other disabilities. This is both to make sure our software is easy-to-use for all abilities, and to overcome a frequent bias we hear about older people not being able to use applications, and also to provide valuable feedback. We’ve found from these studies, the results of which will be published shortly in peer-reviewed journals, that software can be designed for long-term adherence, and this adherence to programs can lead to clinically-meaningful patient outcome improvements.
User-centered design relies on three principles, all of which can be practiced easily, but require continual discipline to practice. It’s easy to assume you know how your users or patients will react either based on your own experiences, or based on prior knowledge. There’s really no substitute for direct experience though. When we practice user-centered design, we think about things from three aspects:
Place ourselves in the full experience through the eyes of the user. This is possibly the most powerful way to impact user-centered design, but sometimes the most difficult. Virtual reality is proving to be a great way to experience immersion. At the Kaiser Permanente Center For Total Health in Washington, DC, participants experience a virtual reality tour by a homeless man showing where he sleeps and spends his days. It’s very powerful to be right there with him. While this is definitely a deep-dive immersion experience, there are other ways like these physical therapy students who learned what it was like to age through simple simulations like braces, and crutches. Changing the font size on your screens can be a really easy way to see whether your solution is useable by those with less than 20/20 vision. With many technology solutions being built by young teams, immersion can be a very powerful tool for usable and accessible software.
Carefully watch and examine what people are actually doing. It can be really difficult to do this without jumping in and explaining how to use your solution. An interesting way to get started with observation is to start before you start building a solution: go and visit your end-user’s environment and take notes, video, and pictures.
Understanding what is around them when they are using your solution may give you much greater insight. When possible we try to visit the clinic before a deployment of Wellpepper. Simple things like whether wifi is available, how busy the waiting room is, and who is initiating conversations with patients can help us understand how to better build administrative tools that fit into the clinician’s workflow. Once you’ve started with observing your users where they will use your solution, the next step is to have them test what you’ve built. Again, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Starting with asking them how they think they would use paper wireframes or voice interface testing with Wizard of Oz scenarios can get you early feedback before you become too attached to your creations.
Accurately capture conversations and personal stories. The personal stories will give you insight into what’s important to your users, and also uncover things that you can’t possibly know just by looking at usage data. Conversations can help you with this. The great thing about conversations is that they are an easy way to share feedback with team members who can’t be there, and personal stories help your team converge around personas. We’ve found personal stories to be really helpful in thinking about software design, in particular understanding how to capture those personal stories from patients right in the software by letting them set and track progress against their own personal goals.
Doctor’s often talk about how becoming a patient or becoming a care-giver for a loved one changes their experiences of healthcare and makes them better doctors. This is truly user-centered design, but deeply personal experience is not the only way to learn.
To learn more:
Check out the work Bon Ku, MD is doing at Jefferson University Hospital teaching design to physicians.
Visit the Kaiser Permanente Innovation Center.
Read these books from physicians who became patients.
In Shock: My Journey from Death to Recovery and the Redemptive Power of Hope, Rana Adwish, MD
When Breath Becomes Air Paul Kalanithi, MD