Patient User Experiences

This originally appeared on the Health IT Marketing and PR Conference (HITMC) blog. Jared is speaking at HITMC 2015 on May 7-8.

How are patient’s user experiences evolving, and are we prepared to evolve with them? Just as we were getting used to larger phones, wearables such as the soon-to-be-available Apple Watch are cutting our expectations back down to size. A very small size, in fact.

Think for a moment of the myriad ways in which we are able to interact with digital devices for health-related purposes.

  • Video conferencing with a doctor
  • Accessing personal health information via a patient portal
  • Wayfinding beacons inside a hospital
  • Emailing customer service for billing information
  • Accessing EHRs
  • Posting a comment to a cancer patients’ support group blog
  • Tracking a morning run
  • Many, many more

One way we can craft effective user experiences is by keeping an eye on factors that are influencing consumers’ expectations. Here are three trends and what you can do to take advantage of them:

1. Consumers are becoming accustomed to smaller, shorter interactions thanks to the advent of wearables, including the Apple Watch.

Apple has slowly released information about the Apple Watch over the last few months. In November, they documented some of the new types of interactions. Aptly named “glances” and “short look” notifications, these are abbreviated user interactions, some of which can be activated with the raise of the wrist.

The Apple Watch won’t be the first wearable with these types of shorter user experiences, but its imminent launch is thrusting them into the mainstream. While many wearables remain in their infancy, we should be aware of how quickly they are developing into next-generation devices that will be more sophisticated.

What you can do: Be aware of what types of user interactions are most beneficial to patients. Brainstorm data that could be useful to patients in these shorter types of notifications. Marketing and IT should both be involved in these decisions.

2. Consumers are becoming more accustomed to convenient experiences thanks to retail health offerings.

Retail health is changing the way we experience patient care, and providers that pay attention will give themselves the best chance to compete.

I’ll give you two recent examples. Earlier this month, I needed to see a doctor late on a Friday night. Rather than attempt the tangled web of phone tag to reach my primary care physician after hours, I Googled the local NextCare urgent care clinic on my phone. Not only was their site mobile friendly, but (with my permission) it asked for my location and identified the nearest clinic less than a mile from my home. I checked in and set up an appointment from my phone within minutes.

My other example is more simple, but just as convenient. I get a text message when my prescription refill is ready at CVS pharmacy. For me, NextCare and CVS are winning my loyalty because they make my life easier. When we don’t feel our best, the last thing we want is an inconvenient user experience.

What you can do: Don’t assume that you know how your target users will navigate your sites and apps. Their expectations are changing rapidly. Involve users in creating and testing. Also, test your assumptions. This can be through traditional usability testing, more sophisticated A/B testing, or other means. Recognize that consumers are rewarding organizations that provide them with convenient, useful interactions.

3. Multi-screen experiences are the rule, not the exception.

According to a study by Marketo in 2014, a staggering 90% of consumers start a task on one device and complete it on a different device. This has far-reaching implications for health care organizations, and it begs the question of how to structure user design for a variety of screen sizes.

Note that user design (UI) is not synonymous with user experience (UX). UI is the set of visual elements such as fonts, colors and buttons, while UX is the overall delivery of a positive user interaction.

Visual brand consistency is essential for multi-screen experiences to be effective. After years of Web designers perfecting the art of fitting as much content as possible “above the fold,” we should now be asking questions such as, “What can I remove from the screen to help the user focus on what I want them to do?”

What you can do: This may be a good time to review your user design and make sure you are following the basics. Use buttons rather than text links when possible, and make the buttons tall enough for a finger to tap. Limit the number of items on a single screen. Draw the user’s eyes to the Call to Action (CTA) using white space. Incorporate swiping gestures when appropriate. Design for the smallest screen first.


Patients expect a lot from mobile apps and sites. Brian Holak related it in home improvement terms: “A poor user interface is like a newly constructed home filled with ugly wallpaper and mismatched furniture.” The more that health providers pay attention to trends that are influencing consumers’ expectations, the better they can provide valuable user experiences that will last.