April 7, 2020

User Experience for Virtual Care Applications

Stephanie Dacre |

Knowledge

In this article you will find 3 major sections which you can jump to based on your own interest.

  • Background and Update on Virtual Care Applications
  • Major Considerations for Building a Virtual Care Application
  • Human Centred Design for Virtual Care

Background and Update on Virtual Care Applications

The emergence of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has placed a strain on healthcare systems worldwide. Consumers are following the self isolation recommendations and avoiding walk in clinics, hospitals and doctors offices in an effort to ‘flatten the curve’. COVID-19 has sparked what seems like a sudden need for virtual care so that citizens can receive healthcare from the safety of their own home. 

COVID-19 and Consumer Expectations for Healthcare

However, consumer demand for virtual healthcare existed far before the spread of this virus. In recent years a number of web and mobile applications have emerged as a response to that demand. Part of that demand is driven by new consumers of healthcare which include a younger generation that has different expectations for convenience, affordability, reputation, and quality of care. 

According to the Accenture 2019 Digital Health Consumer Survey

  • More than half (53%) of consumers surveyed in 2019 said they were more likely to use a provider offering remote telemonitoring devices – compared to 39% in 2016. 
  • Younger consumers are much less likely to have a primary care physician (compared to Gen X, baby boomers and the silent generation). An average of 82% of consumers born between 1928 and 1980 have a primary care physician, compared to 67% of millennials and 55% of Gen Z. 
  • Millennials and Gen Z are dissatisfied with traditional healthcare services.

Technology has powered trends in changing the service delivery models for every industry, including healthcare. The COVID-19 pandemic is also demonstrating that our ability to provide healthcare effectively can be threatened without good virtual care solutions. When you consider that type of threat alongside evolving consumer behaviours it’s clear that healthcare providers need to stay a step ahead more than ever. Telehealth in particular holds a lot of promise, so what can virtual care applications offer us?

Convenience

No office waits – choose a time that works best for you. Schedule visits anywhere, anytime with your mobile device where you can receive updates, reminders, and follow ups.

Accessibility

Receive medical care from your home whether that is for comfort or necessity. You can also readily connect with specialists and care providers outside of your local area.

Engagement

Record sharing, survey delivery, and gathering feedback are all enhanced and made easier through telehealth solutions which helps create more engaged patients and care providers.

Major Considerations for Building a Virtual Care Application

Based on our experience at FreshWorks, we’ve found that any person or organization that is looking to develop a telehealth application that can provide virtual care services should be mindful of 4 major areas

  • UX Design
  • Security
  • Compliance
  • Privacy

These are areas where problems – but also opportunities to stand out – are most common to arise. 

This article is the first of an intended series where we will cover the four areas above to help you make a successful virtual care application that delivers  the most possible value to its intended users. We will explore these areas starting with user experience considerations for virtual care applications so you’ll know what to focus on in order to craft a great digital experience for all user groups – patients, care providers, and administrators.

Area #1: UX Design & Understanding Your Users

How do I build a product that people want to use?

Well designed applications are based on understanding user behaviors, thoughts and emotions. To gain this understanding, a dedicated discovery and user research period should occur before design and development. Involving users early will confirm the goals of the project and the potential value this software will deliver. Users will provide feedback which can tweak the direction of the project if the value is not initially clear to them. 

Different populations will pose different challenges which can be uncovered and dealt with in the discovery phase. For example, FreshWorks is currently building a walk-in style counselling tool for young people between the ages of 12 and 24. Since these youth were in remote and vulnerable communities, we needed to understand all the barriers that would prevent them from using the application. As a solution, we set up a council with 30 youth across B.C. with diverse socioeconomic statuses to collect user feedback. We have run similar user focus groups for every virtual care application we worked on and you will see some findings of those exercises throughout the examples below.

“As a solution, we set up a council with 30 youth across B.C. with diverse socioeconomic statuses. We have run similar user focus groups for every virtual care application we worked on.”

Defining Your Audiences

In the past few years, we have uncovered user experience considerations while helping build multiple virtual care applications with partners that include Telus Health, FoundryBC, BC Emergency Health Services, CanAssist at the University of Victoria and Livecare. Each has a similar value proposition – to provide remote access to healthcare services – but each was built for notably different audiences. 

The first thing to do is confirm who the app will provide virtual care to. Are you working with youth? Seniors? Members of a specific industry? The demographics and psychographics of your users will influence how your app should look, feel, and move users along in their journey. This holds true for patients, care providers, and the app’s administrators as well

Same Problems, Different Answers

Below are some of the things that will vary based on your user groups.

Comfortability with Technology

The willingness to use a virtual care service at all is influenced by the user demographic. Specific services might be more desirable; for example the study mentioned earlier in this article explained that users are more willing to do a prescription renewal vs. monitoring their health with an at home device. This might also just mean the initial walk through is a short video vs. fully interactive. Navigation patterns or menu styles might also be influenced.

Example:

In one virtual care app we worked on that is aimed at seniors the device will ring just like a telephone call or skype call with an easy “answer” button for users. On another youth-focused app we discovered that youth tend not to have brand new mobile devices and the application needed to provide support as far back as iOS 10 for iPhone 5s.

Communication (Style, Language, Voice, and Tone)

If the app targets members of a specific industry, using industry jargon may be welcome if used correctly. Depending on users direct language or humour may or may not be appropriate. A more common one (in North America) is knowing to what level the app needs to support non-english speaking users. 

Communication also happens visually. Different users respond differently to illustration styles, colours, use of animations, or interface complexity. Communicating effectively based on user preferences is good for its own sake but also because it builds trust which helps your app deliver more value more quickly.

Example:

Through user research we learned youth do not like to repeat their problems and find it easier to write down than tell a stranger directly. Repeating themselves can also be traumatic. In one virtual care app we created a feature for the youth to explain who they are and maybe some things that trouble them. This has to be read by the service provider prior to engaging with the youth so they do not have to explain themselves twice.


Technical or Functional Requirements

Family doctors vs a mental health counsellor will have different needs for what a virtual care app can enable them to do. Perhaps care providers need to securely receive documents or access medical records. Patient users may need to verify their identity at some point while using the app, or be able to schedule follow ups before ending a session. 

Example:

When FreshWorks built Livecare, the solution required integration with Oscar EMR for integrated scheduling and visit documentation. In contrast, when building a Mental Health and Substance Use Virtual Clinic App, the solution required integration with a third party app to manage intake surveys.

Both of these requirements were identified during user research to understand both the users desires in app functionality and the stakeholders overall business goals. 

On another app user research showed not all youth have access to their CareCard. Thus, to account for identity assurance, that app had some anonymous services with separate users who could prove their identity.

Human Centered Design

Many virtual care applications will share common features (think personal profiles, video calls, viewing attached files, leaving notes etc.) but not all are built the same. Before spending time, effort and money, it is crucial that you understand the behaviors, emotions, needs and wants of your user base. 

We recommend following a human centered, service design methodology that places user needs first. This holistic approach considers all strategic, system and process design decisions to ensure that any services created are useful, usable, desirable, efficient and effective. The workflow looks something like this: 

Empathize: Conduct UX research to develop an understanding of your users and the problems they’re facing.

Define: Through research, define the problem to be solved, the target audience and what the future product may be.

Ideate: With clearly defined product vision, brainstorm solutions to address the user’s needs. 

Prototype: build real, tactile representations to be shared with users and stakeholders.

Test:  Return to your users to test prototypes for feedback 

Implement: Launch the MVP. 

What’s Next?

In the next article in this series, we will be exploring either privacy, security, or compliance as the 2nd major area of focus for creating a virtual care application.

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