If you ask patients what is their biggest gripe with healthcare services, you’ll hear a lot of common responses– doctors’ indifference to patient’s problems, privacy during illness and treatment, more waiting times during hospital visits, and so on.
But if you turn the tables on doctors and ask their biggest gripe with patients, you’ll get answers like lack of adherence to medication, failure to understand the implications of not following medical advice, missing regular checkups, and so on.
Digital healthcare applications that try to solve these problems (and fail) fall behind in understanding that they’re missing an important link- effective patient engagement.
When patients lack an understanding of ‘why’ of the treatment, they are less likely to follow it. They underestimate their own role in the recovery process which ultimately jeopardizes their health. For instance– if a person is on his weight-loss journey, then lack of information around how long will the program run, when would he start seeing results, how often he has to measure his vital stats, what would he achieve after 3-months of rigorous diet, prove to be demotivating.
Engaging actively with the patients is the only way to keep them motivated through the journey– whether it’s healing from a chronic illness or transformation into a new lifestyle. This is where we need to take action and design a holistic patient engagement solution.
So, what is patient engagement and how can we make it better?
Patient engagement is the communication that happens between the patients/users and healthcare services providers (doctors, insurance providers, pharmacy). To make patient engagement better, we need to design the app in a way that there is an active indulgence from patients’ side. We need to transform their experience in a manner so that they can take the leap from a passive care recipient to an active participant. We need to engage them with defined roles and responsibilities.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t intend to say that we should offload all the responsibilities from the provider. My point is that we need to hold patients accountable for the outcomes and empower them to have the best health outcomes possible. To make patients adhere to the treatment and keep them engaged during the interactions certain aspects need to be kept in mind while designing the UI.
Invest time in user research
Healthcare is a vast and complex domain. There are many diseases and multiple ways to treat those diseases. The challenges are a mix of known unknowns and unknown unknowns. So, it is important to understand the market and the users.
To design a great patient experience, start at the beginning. Invest time in the discovery phase. Research various aspects of the problem statement. Understand the user demographics, what problems they face, and what solutions they imagine. After you have a first version ready, roll it out in the market to a limited target audience. Observe how the innovators and the early adopters receive it and gradually start including the rest of the audience.
Go beyond the happy scenarios
Healthcare organizations/service providers collect feedback from patients in the form of surveys and interviews and use them to form opinions– how was their experience with the doctor, how satisfied they feel with the treatment, and so on.
But often they miss out on collecting feedback on other aspects, such as– how much time did they spend in the waiting room, how easy/difficult it was for them to book an appointment, did they receive the right information on appointment rescheduling and so on.
To design a better patient engagement, think holistically and include all the touchpoints where the patients can get stuck or feel helpless. We need to design an experience that holds patients’ hands throughout their user journey.
The earlier example I shared is for an appointment booking system, but you can apply it to any healthcare product– be it pharmacy management or insurance management. Look for areas where your users face resistance in sharing their problems.
For instance- consider an insurance management application that allows people to purchase and renew their insurance. The happy scenario would be users buying the insurance as per their requirement. But we can think beyond that. What if we can inform and motivate users to fill in as much details about their health to book an insurance that suits their requirements.
Make data security a priority
Technology is changing the way people perceive healthcare. But one thing hasn’t changed– concern over data protection and privacy. Healthcare products and digital apps carry lots of sensitive and confidential information that is prone to theft and misuse. This is why designing healthcare products is more complex than other digital applications.
But designing with an extra layer of security and privacy regulations makes products difficult to use and complex to understand. To design better patient engagement, think about the concerns of your users. Design your solutions while following safety protocols and compliance standards.
In addition to that, convey the security measures you’ve implemented to the users. When users understand that the application is safe and trustworthy, their engagement levels improve.
Empower patients to play an active role
Most patients lack understanding of their ailments which reduces their involvement in the treatment and decision-making process. The solution is effective patient education through multiple mediums so that they can select the medium as per their convenience and get a better understanding about their disease and the ongoing treatment.
Whether it’s patients or caregivers, empower them to play a key role in helping themselves/their family members, by teaching them how a given treatment is relevant. Patient engagement improves when users are educated, informed and onboarded in the process. This helps patients to be at the driver seat of their treatment.
Another way to empower patients is to provide them coordinated, accessible and customized information that suits their requirements. An example of this could be- if they receive a push notification of reminder about renewal of their insurance policy, integrate it with the system that allows them to renew it right at that moment.
Every patient is different. Some are happy with new advancements in healthcare and are ready to try emerging technologies like AI, robotics to take charge of their health. Whereas, others are still hesitant in adopting new ways of treatment. Especially elderly and people with disabilities.
To offer better patient engagement to them, indulge with them in the traditional way. For example- an elderly having early signs of Parkinson’s disease might not feel comfortable in interacting with a virtual nurse assistant. There are two ways to help them- either you find a way to help them come out of their comfort zone or you offer help the traditional way, i.e. setting up an in-house visit.
Practice empathy to experience what they feel and go through every day. Support them in their journeys to enable better long-term treatment outcomes.
Communication is a very important aspect to keep the patient adhere to the treatment. When patients go through a treatment, they have numerous questions in their mind. A good patient experience is when every question is answered. So, there should be a way where users can ask their questions and get answers.
To enable unhindered communication, an application must have a community where everyone keeps posting their queries and gets motivated by each other. In urgency, the patient should be able to connect with the support staff too for any assistance.
Make information accessible
It is very challenging for the patient and doctors to manage and remember every detail of the patient. So the system should be designed in such a way that it makes managing the clinical history of the patient easier. The doctor should be easily able to access the information from different patient care-related venues.
Deep dive into analytics
Launching an application is never enough. One must look at the data and understand what’s working, what can be improved and what has failed. Patient engagement can be greatly improved if we care enough for the data and take action on improving the shortcomings. For example- analytics shows that most users drop at the payment CTA for booking an online appointment. This information can help us improve the payment flow. We can ask questions like- can we reduce the number of steps for payment, what security measures can we add in the payment gateway so that users can trust it, and so on.
Google’s HEART framework can also be used to measure task success in healthcare products.
H defines happiness which indicates if the patients and physicians are finding the app useful and easy to use.
E defines engagement which shows if the patients and doctors are using the application to its fullest and are adhering to the treatment.
A defines adoption which shows how many users are signing-up for it and adopting the new features.
R defines retention which indicates if users are coming back to manage their appointments, refills, reminders, schedule.
T defines task completion which shows if patients and doctors are able to complete their tasks easily.
Using all these parameters, one can extract valuable information and use it to improve patient engagement.
Improving patient engagement is not a quick fix that one can do merely by desiring it. You have to do the hard work to understand the patient, interact with them and have an empathetic approach to understand their world view. A good patient experience improves engagement levels and is directly linked to the success of the application.