article

Telehealth at your fingertips: how we approach healthy product design

10 min read

Anastasiya Mudryk Anastasiya Mudryk
17 Jan 2020
Permission management dashboard for a health tech application

Intro

Over the last few years, the entire healthcare industry has been striving to deliver better customer experiences through digital transformation. Technologies like cloud and mobile services disrupted the industry in multiple ways by making healthcare more accessible, efficient and integrated. The results have so far been promising. Digital transformation has not only improved the operational efficiency of medical systems and reduced the number of level errors, but it has also expanded access to general care and specialists, doing so in a faster and more convenient manner.

Integrating digital solutions into healthcare is no walk in the park, though. Regardless of company type or specialty, there are many unique challenges that scrappy startups and established enterprises alike face. These challenges are vital to overcome, especially given the delicate and legal nature of healthcare. Smart digital product owners should consider these factors at each stage of their solution design and development, thereby making it essential to find digital partners with experience in designing healthcare-oriented products.

Here at Cieden, we pride ourselves on the consistent value we add to both healthtech startups and enterprises. Every day we’re driven to maximize the impact we can have on people’s well being – on a global scale. That may actually be the reason behind why we excel so much at product design for healthcare, and especially for telehealth domains. It’s because we care.

We also see how many telehealth founders out there care. The market is exploding, and we personally witness this via the increasing number of requests we receive to help with healthcare-related software. A huge benefit is that we become privy to the new trends that constantly surface in healthcare, and which trends are driving the most growth. Based on our firsthand experience with these companies, Cieden has developed its own approach on how to deliver solutions for telehealth, and healthtech in general. 

In this blog post, we’d like to share some insights and describe our approach to this unique industry. You’ll find that the uniting factor behind all of these efforts is, naturally, quality design that takes into account user environments and unique industry constraints.

Our approach to telehealth

Things to keep in mind on a telehealth project: unique needs, integrations, context and compliance.

1. Understand unique needs

One of the most critical parts of product design is to understand user needs. The same logic applies to the telehealth industry: you need to clearly recognize who is going to use this product. Creating a user persona is a good start, but it’s not sufficient for uncovering deeper knowledge and empathy. 

There are almost always multiple user types on telehealth platforms, and each has their own unique goals, needs, frustrations, motivations, workflows, tasks and so on. The complexity of each user, exacerbated by the delicate nature of healthcare, often leads us to employing several different user research and process analysis techniques. The Customer Journey Map and Service Blueprint are two tools that need to be mastered in order to document the full spectrum of user interactions with any given solution or larger service line.  

Here are some quick tips on common user personas we consider when creating telehealth products:

Telehealth customer personas can be split into patients, providers and other users

Patients

  • Patients – Telehealth patients, by definition, need assistance with their health. However, the degree and nature of their needs can vary quite drastically. Proper research helps us understand the potential health problems we seek to address via any given company or app, what the environment of those patients may be, and how we can best meet their needs. No matter the type of patient we are principally designing for, we like to create quick and easy onboarding flows that concurrently educates users on how to use the system and achieve their goals.
    • Emergent Patients – While most emergent patients call 911 or get themselves to an emergency room, there are still digital solutions that are designed to assist hospital staff in providing the fastest, most quality care possible to patients. We’ve designed such systems.
    • Non-Emergent Patients – These patients do not need emergency assistance, but still suffer from issues that should be attended to within 24 hours. Fatigue, irritability, pain, and other factors need to be considered when designing a software interface for these types of patients. Their tolerance for confusing designs is typically much lower than it may normally be under other circumstances.
    • Chronic or Specialist Care Patients – Chronic care or specialist needs, while serious, are not always emergent. In situations like this, the patient is probably looking for a very specific service provider that can help them, and is willing to spend time and effort researching the best options available. Family members and friends may also partake in the research process. Situations like these call for collaborative efforts, note-taking, aggregating data from multiple sources, and facilitating easy and friendly communication between the patients and service providers.
    • Elderly Patients – Elderly users often get lost when using new technologies. They may also have vision, hearing, and memory impairments that can interfere with their ability to effectively use an app. We keep this in mind when designing software that older people will need to use, trying to reduce clutter, make it easy for family members to explain how something works, and provide easy access to operator assistance.
    • Patients with Disabilities – Any type of patient can also grapple with different types of disabilities. This makes it so important to design software that adheres to accessibility standards. 
A confused older patient struggling to cope with new telehealth technologies

Providers

Each medical specialty has its own unique workflows that impact providers’ operations. While these operations can differ drastically among the different specialties, we have absolutely noticed that they often have tight schedules with many duties and little room for error. The resulting pressure is a factor to keep in mind when mapping their duties and thinking of solutions that will help.

After all, a product designer’s main goal is not to grossly interfere with existing operations, which are often in place due to legislative concerns or years of evidence-based practice. Instead, it’s important to seek to complement their daily routines to make workdays easier, less stressful, or less susceptible to error.

To achieve this goal, product designers should study operational workflows closely, map existing digital solutions within those workflows, and then come up with the right solution that harmoniously fits into the overall environment.

A telehealth provider looking at the screen of a gadget

Administrators

Other healthtech users include medical system managers, who are interested in operational reporting; platform administrators, who manage permissions custom settings; insurance companies representatives; ongoing post-care support staff; and more.

Once we identify and map out each user persona for the software, we are able to tailor our design solutions to make them useful and usable.

2. Know the context

The users’ environment – that is, the actual physical and digital surroundings of any given customer, is an extremely important point when designing healthtech software. 

The first question to ask yourself when fleshing out the user environment is what device will be used to access the software. Will it be a desktop, mobile phone, tablet, TV, or custom hardware. There are many possibilities to consider. For example, a patient may often just use his or her phone, but providers can use several devices with different software programs running simultaneously. These multiple devices can be a part of one single workflow, and different features within the hardware and software can complement each other throughout one single flow. On the contrary, other features can be inaccessible on mobile phones due to security issues. 

Devices aren’t the only factors to consider. Physical location is often just as important: healthtech can be deployed in urgent care facilities, private rooms, laboratories, hospital intake and admin areas, exam rooms, or even within emergency vehicles. Familiarizing ourselves with physical locations sheds additional light on the mental and emotional states of the individuals using our software, and how each user persona will be interacting with it.

3. System-wide integrations

Another deeply embedded aspect of product design for healthtech product managers is related to system integrations. It is almost unheard of for a telehealth system to be designed as a separate software unit. After all, medical software is often an entangled net of data connections that feed from one system and transfer to others. In order to design proper medical forms, you need to know what information should feed to the EHRs or what can be obtained from a third-party system. This is why it is vital to know what data is used, stored and processed by the platform. Just imagine what could happen if we forget to design the “Allergies” field within a patient intake form, and this info isn’t stored in the patient’s medical record! Furthermore, all processing of data needs to be clearly understood to maintain legal compliance with different standards.

 4. Compliance

The medical industry is one of the most regulated industries in the world, and rightfully so. Human lives quite literally depend on the efficiency and quality of healthcare. Consequently, the cost of any error is astronomical, so it’s important to follow numerous rules and policies when running a healthcare business. Thankfully for us, there are only a few key rules we need to comply with when designing and creating healthcare products. Here are the specific legislative acts we consider when creating a healthcare product:

  1. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which stipulates requirements related to data protection and security provisions for safeguarding medical information. If you’ve heard about GDPR, then this is something similar but way more strict. 
  2. While the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) does not apply to medical practitioners that already abide by HIPAA, it will certainly apply to all other types of healthcare companies, such as medical device manufacturers.
  3.  Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH) that enforces penalties for not using EHRs properly. 
  4. Most healthcare organizations are required by ACA Section 1557 to address the accessibility of their digital communications. Thus, when designing a product, we keep in mind WCAG 2.1 accessibility standards and choose the level of conformity we can adhere to. Check out our blog post about designing with accessibility in mind for more details.

UI elements you will probably have in your telehealth product

Once we’ve considered all the points above and are ready to begin designing, this is how we approach and perfect specific UI elements.

2 pictures aimed to compare modern and intuitive telehealth forms, and old and outdated ones

Forms 

The medical domain is full of documentation; a huge amount of data is collected and stored as medical records. This means that a lot of time is spent creating and properly maintaining this documentation. This is why we consider best practices when designing forms to make them as simple and easy to fill. For example, we like using single-column layouts, having a clear path within the form, grouping related fields, using a wizard or progress bar for long forms, and using proper labeling and adding visual cues. The list goes on.   

Video console

Telehealth solutions revolve around connecting patients and providers remotely. This means the video console should be crystal-clear for patients and seamless for providers, who should be able to also take notes during calls and use other systems at the same time.  

Collaboration tools

Cases usually require collaborative work, so we strive to make the teamwork aspect transparent. We often consider integrating activity history and messaging tools. 

If you are interested in reading more about our hands-on experience in specific healthtech projects, we invite you to check out our case studies. These examples allow us to share our experience in solving real-world problems, such as granting roles and permissions for a rehabilitation facility; improving engagement for a clinical portal with the use of a hook models; integrating a machine learning API into a different clinical portal to increase operational efficiency and reduce triage time, and improving the form fill process for sight exams. All of these are coming soon!  

If you’d like to explore the possibility of creating a healthtech app together, you are also welcome to reach out to us at hello@cieden.com.

Anastasiya Mudryk
by Anastasiya Mudryk

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