How designers create valuable experiences in health care

Oct. 16, 2017 / By Andy Vitale

People often ask how designers can create solutions that help users achieve their desired outcomes more easily in an industry such as health care, when designers aren’t necessarily subject matter experts. The purpose of design is to enhance a workflow that allows users to perform tasks in an intuitive manner by providing a seamless experience across the many different users of a healthcare application. Additionally, the goal of UX designers is to take these experiences and ensure they are valuable to the people who interact with them.

The users, who directly interact with the solution or service, can vary from patients to payers to a multitude of roles that fall under providers, or all of the above. There are also customers, who may not necessarily be the end user but they are the ones who purchase the product. Another subset of people to consider are those whose outcomes are directly affected by the offering. While often patients, they can also be payers or providers as well. While each potential group of people has a varying robust agenda – whether productivity, quality of care, complete and accurate documentation, or compliance, with different expected outcomes and anticipated results—the common need is an experience that provides value to them.

While value may be subjective, or at least different to different people, the experience of interacting with the solution should be consistent. The experience is much more than how the product looks, it is about the delight of using it, not just across a single touchpoint, but all aspects of the interaction with a company and its products and services across the entire ecosystem of offerings. In order to be valuable an experience must solve for a need—if it solves an unmet or unarticulated need, it provides higher value. For an experience to be valuable it should supplement or enhance an outcome or workflow.

When looking for guidance around value, experience designers often look to the Elements of Value Pyramid, which lists 30 different elements of value, across four categories. The main categories are:

  • Functional value, which solves every day problems like saving time or reducing cost.
  • Emotional value, which connects with users to promote loyalty by making them feel secure or providing them with benefits.
  • Life-changing value, which truly solves a need by providing hope, motivation or a sense of belonging.
  • Social-impact, which improves the greater good by focusing away from self-interest to truly help others or society at large.

Much like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the pyramid shows the more basic needs towards the bottom. While the more elements provided can lead to greater customer loyalty and higher sustained revenue, the higher the element is on the pyramid, the more value and impact it delivers.

Designers spend a lot of time with users, stakeholders and subject matter experts to understand each perspective in order to provide an experience that aligns business goals and user needs. It is important to listen to the pain points of those who will rely on our products, especially in an industry as complex and important as health care, to gain empathy for them. Understanding their workflow, goals and desired outcomes helps designers also identify unarticulated needs during contextual inquiry sessions, where designers shadow users and ask them questions about the tasks they are performing.

With the knowledge gained from the conversations, designers begin iterating on potential solutions. The design process allows for collaboration with cross-functional teams such as subject matter experts and technical and marketing partners, as well as customers and users to validate the designs as early and often as possible. These validation sessions are often done by sending users clickable prototypes during either in-person or remote, moderated or unmoderated sessions, depending on the scenario and logistics. It is typical for the design team to build, test and iterate in a 40-hour period of time that is known as a design sprint. Designers are skilled at identifying trends across users and identifying the right times and scenarios to surface the information necessary for that specific user. It also ensures that the solution being built provides value, allowing for flexibility and change, before spending the time and resources and assuming the risk of creating it without validation. Valuable healthcare solutions solve meaningful, often complex, human problems that are truly life-changing.

Andy Vitale is a UX design principal at 3M Health Care.