The year 2020 has brought with it an unprecedented event—Covid-19 has spread across the globe and changed our lives. One of the changes it has brought is the emergence of digital health, with its most prominent feature being telemedicine. As a user experience (UX) researcher in digital health, it is great see so many organisations focusing on this sector. The term "user experience" or UX refers to the experience of a user after interacting with a product. UX research deals with the behavioural aspect of the user of the product and focuses on making the product user friendly.
If the user experience aspect of these digital health initiatives is not addressed properly, they may not be able to reach their true potential. Technology is the easy part of digital health but addressing and solving the problems that matter to users is the main challenge.
A human centred approach is vital to digital health. Both online based healthcare platforms and traditional brick and mortar healthcare institutions need to accommodate the participation of its users when designing a system. In reality, this is not always the practice. When I use the word "users", it includes everyone involved in the process. A human centred design is a problem solving technique that brings a human perspective into solutions through the active participation of service users, and can contribute to eliminating the human errors in the process. A lot of times, we see unsatisfied patients complaining about service providers, mainly for the lack of empathy, negligence and wrong treatment. On the other hand, healthcare institutions also blame patients for their ignorance, carelessness and improper communication. Most of these problems can be mitigated through a human centred design approach.
Two things are vital for the proper implementation of this human centred approach. The first is that service providers must adopt the right mindset. This would help in the proper formation of teams and ensure the active and systematic participation of all users. The "right mindset" comes with the practice of taking users' feedback and improving on a continual basis.
Using the right tools is the second important aspect of the approach. This consists of selecting the right methodology and collecting actionable data. For example, taking user feedback just after experiencing a service is a great way to capture user experience. When looking at the data, a combination of both qualitative and quantitative data is required, and the data should be prepared in such a way that necessary actions can be taken based on it. Again, each and every tool needs to be validated with iterative testing.
Digital health services in Bangladesh can now play a crucial role in preventive healthcare. The whole world is taking precautionary measures now, keeping in mind that prevention is better than the cure. This prevention is not only important for communicable diseases like Covid-19, but also for important non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like diabetes and heart disease, which pose much greater threats to human lives. Digital health is a great tool for the prevention and detection of many diseases, especially NCDs, since it can make easy and usable connections between service providers and service receivers, thus enabling a better preventive healthcare system.
Providing healthcare content is a very helpful tool in preventive care, and in this case, three things should be kept in mind. Firstly, the content should be relevant to users. Relevancy can be sorted out from users' needs and preferences. Secondly, content should be actionable, so that it can motivate users to follow it. Thirdly, content should be trustworthy, so that users stick to the service.
Currently, our healthcare seeking behaviour is reactive, but we need to change it to being proactive. In the reactive approach, a person seeks healthcare services only after getting sick, whereas a person with a proactive approach takes precautionary steps to prevent the disease in the first place. This needs to be done in a systematic way. For example, the BJ Fogg Behaviour Model argues that behaviour change is a combined effort of motivation, ability and trigger, which prompts users to take actions. In my experience, motivation is the biggest challenge in healthcare behaviour change. Now due to the Covid-19 crisis, all of us are assessing our healthcare behaviour. This sudden behaviour change can help us to adopt a proactive attitude in preventing diseases.
Many people think digital health means only telemedicine. And in many patients' perceptions, it means only primary chitchat with a doctor and the end of the service. Service providers are also stuck on telemedicine when they provide digital health. In reality, digital health has a vast horizon that is yet to be visible in front of our eyes. Some of its other features are medicine delivery, home testing, health management in mobile app, health insurance etc.
We need a great deal of user research in order to move beyond telemedicine. This is because we should design a service that matters to the users. There are two things to focus on here.
First, user research is needed to find the gaps in existing services, which may help service providers to expand beyond the existing service while trying to fill the gap. For example, after using telemedicine, a user may demand delivery of medicine prescribed in the consultation. Or a person with a high risk of diabetes may take help from a mobile app for better adherence to their healthcare plan.
Secondly, a minimum viable product (MVP) and a small user group needs to be selected at first to test the product being offered. Both the approach and the learnings from the test should be properly documented when moving forward. If a user segment is happy about the services they use, they can be chosen for testing additional features. For example, some users in telemedicine are spontaneous about giving feedback on the services they use. They can be given healthcare content and asked about their feedback on the content. The service providers can learn a lot from these users and improvise before scaling it to every other user.
I am exposed to lots of marketing offers from different healthcare providers, starting from discounts in medicines to offers in medical tourism. However, it is obvious that most people are skeptical of how this kind of marketing actually helps. Service providers need to understand its users' motivations and engage in proper messaging based on that—emphasising on user experience can break the barriers to adoption. Once a user gets an orientation to the service, steps should be taken to ensure a pleasant experience and make them a repeated user. A happy user is the biggest promoter of a product.
Many tech startups involved in other businesses are coming for their share in digital health. These are exciting times, and the perfect moment for the people in this sector to utilise people's current attention to healthcare and contribute to the long term betterment of society by creating unique, user-friendly services.
J M Aminur Rahim is trained in user and digital product research and is currently Design Research Specialist, Open CRVS Project, Plan International.