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Health and UX: when design has a life-saving potential

November 10, 2022

When a decimal point of a glucose meter is not noticeable enough, people with insulin-dependent diabetes might misread their glucose levels and end up getting the wrong insulin dose.

To prevent alarm fatigue, doctors often choose to turn audible alarms down or off of monitoring devices, relying on the visual indication when there’s a critical situation. This wouldn’t be a problem if the ‘warning’ message is attention grabbing. That’s not the case of the device below, where the ‘Warning!’ is lost in an interface with too much information and poor color contrast.

These examples show us how poorly-designed interfaces can lead to terrible outcomes, from severe hypoglycemia to diabetic coma or even death in the first case, or delay in assisting a patient in a critical situation in the second.

Examples found in “Total Recall: The Consequence of Ignoring Medical Device Usability” by Shannon E. Clark and Ed Israelski

In fact, these are only two examples of the many medical devices the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recalled due to poor usability and user interface design. The FDA has actually published a guidance document dedicated to applying human factors and usability engineering to medical devices. It recommends that manufacturers follow human factors or usability engineering processes during the development of new medical devices, focusing specifically on the user interface, where the user interface includes all points of interaction between the product and the user, including elements such as displays, controls, packaging, product labels, instructions for use, etc.

When medical devices are not designed with usability in mind there’s a higher change they’ll be unsafe, difficult to use, inefficient, and lead to human error and patient harm.

What’s Healthcare UX and why is it important?

Designed healthcare technology and services range from Electronic Health Records, fitness and nutrition apps, ambulances, ultrasound scanners, monitoring devices, wheelchairs, and so on. Their users can be healthcare professionals, specific patient groups, or pretty much anyone.

Over the past few years we’ve witnessed how industries have become more dependent on mobile apps and software platforms. The healthcare industry is no exception. Patients are using their smartphones for health advice, video call appointments, prescriptions, and to track their health. Medical professionals are using software to cope with patients records, prescriptions and medical reference.

The COVID-19 pandemic played an important role in the market of digital health apps. With care moving outside the doctor’s office and hospitals, both patients and providers were pushed to adopt health tools. Telehealth, exercise, mental health and blood pressure apps witnessed a significant increase of downloads.

Last year, over 350.000 digital health apps were available to consumers. Most of them focus on wellness, but there’s also been a rise in digital therapeutics (DTx) apps.

A good experience with healthcare technology and services, that is both useful, accessible and reliable, can make a huge different in improving peoples’ well-being, as well as the work of healthcare professionals.

Photo by wavebreakmedia_micro from Freepik

Challenges of designing for healthcare

Giving its uniqueness, specially the fact that one way or the other it involves people well-being and healthcare, designing for healthcare implies more specific challenges.

Data security threats

The healthcare industry handles large amounts of sensitive information. All patients’ records (personal details, tests, diagnoses) must be protected from any data leak or misuse. Designing a product for the healthcare industry means dealing with regulations that impact usability, design, implementation and data.

Bureaucracy and regulations overload

More than any other, healthcare is a delicate area. Multiple regulations and guidelines, that might even vary from country to country, are a challenge to design user-centric products and to scale them. There’s a constant need to understand limitations and how to approach them.

Growing senior population

Just like hospitals are designed with ramps to make access easier for people on a wheelchair or using crutches, so the design of healthcare platforms and apps must consider accessibility.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), by 2030, 1 in 6 people in the world will be aged 60 years or over. This reminds us of the importance of building health products and services that accommodate the needs of a wide range of users, regardless of their abilities. Not to mention the millions of users who live with visual, auditory, speech, motor, or cognitive impairments. An accessible and inclusive experience becomes imperative. This includes taking into consideration things like colour contrast, text size and building a simple, easy-to-use navigation.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Doctors are hard to recruit

Healthcare professionals are not exactly the ones with the more light schedule, making it a user group harder to recruit for interviews or usability testing. Also, since they’re highly paid professionals, they tend to be more protective of their free time. The key is to make them understand the software or app addresses a specific problem, and how both they and their patients can benefit from the solution.

Source: “Getting Access to Doctors for User Research” in UXPA Magazine

Healthcare apps and services

In 2022, the theme of the World Usability Day is “Our Health” and looks to “explore systems that provide healthcare in all its many forms, such as telehealth, electronic health records, healthcare products and other digital health related solutions.”

With that in mind and wishing to discover more about care solutions, we’ve been searching and selected a few apps and services that are actively changing patients and providers lives.


Telehealth allows you to connect with your doctor online, getting the healthcare you need without leaving the comfort and safety of your home. As the pandemic reduced in-person visits, people turned to this solution that would keep them from going to the hospital. By April 2020, over 43% of Medicare primary care visits were conducted via telehealth services.

Knok is a fully integrated telemedicine solution that offers a series of features to monitor patients’ health and act preventively. It includes an AI symptom checker, video consultation with an embedded reading of vital signs and clinical surveys to monitor patients’ health.

Image credit: Knot

EyeCare Live is an online platform that eliminates the need to visit an ophthalmologist in-person. Instead, you can have an online appointment to renew prescriptions for glasses or contact lenses, discuss your dry eye or any other eye issues.

First, you are connected to a doctor where you are asked to record your condition through pictures or videos of affected eyes. Within minutes, your doctor is able to see you through high-definition video to better understand and help resolve your condition.

Image credit: EyeCare Live

Healthcare products

Smart inhalers: The smart inhaler integrates connectivity with a mobile app, via Bluetooth. They are built with sensor technology that records data about the time, date of use, and the patient’s location at each use. They can help remind patients to use the inhaler at the right time, and send an alert if the they forgot to take the device with them.

FindAir smart inhaler and asthma diary app for digital asthma care

Continuous Glucose Monitoring: For people with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, monitoring blood glucose levels is a necessary part of their routine. Fortunately pricking their finger and checking their blood manually is a thing of the past. Using a continuous glucose monitor is now a far more convenient option.

As an example, Dexcom consists of a small, wearable sensor which includes a transmitter that sends your glucose numbers to a smart device or receiver every 5 minutes. It includes features like alerts for potential severe hypoglycemic event, data sharing and also offers an integrated system for diabetes data reporting and management.

Image credit: Dexcom

MDacne is a fully customisable acne treatment. It all starts with something as simple as taking a selfie. Then, in a few seconds, the app analyses your skin and creates a personalised treatment kit with products formulated to achieve your skincare goals. Additionally, it offers chat support with a dermatologist.

Image credit: Google Play

Systems for mental health, exercise and nutrition

Over the last few years more people are suffering from stress, anxiety and depression. Although mental health apps aren’t designed to diagnose these conditions or replace the care of a professional, they can be a good support to monitor and manage your mental health.

Headspace is a meditation app designed to help people live more mindfully. Through science-backed meditation and mindfulness tools, it can help with stress relief, improve focus, and to get better sleep.

Image credit: TidBITS

BetterMe is a health and fitness platform that encourages healthy mental and physical lifestyle changes in accessible ways. It focuses on personalised solutions to master healthy habits. BetterMe includes a glossary of nutricional values for common foods, a water tracker and a sleep tracker.

Image credit: BetterMe

MyPlate Calorie Counter is an app that tracks your calories intake and where you can log your workouts, while also offering meal plans and recipes.

Image credit: Google Play

DTx products

DTx (short for digital therapeutics) products deliver to patients evidence-based therapeutic interventions that are driven by high quality software programs to treat, manage, or prevent a disease or disorder. These products can normally be accessed through mobile devices, and be used independently or in concert with other treatments.

Daylight is a digital therapeutic for managing anxiety. It’s based on proven cognitive behavioural therapy and developed by clinical psychologists and researchers. By spending just 10 minutes per day with Daylight’s structured, responsive program, you could see improvements within a few weeks. In trials, 71% of participants recovered from clinical levels of anxiety in 10 weeks.

Image credit: Big Health website

HelloBetter Chronic Pain is a digital therapeutic program for chronic pain patients wishing to overcome their pain. It is a 12-week program where patients will acquire effective strategies for dealing with chronic pain: learn how to change the way that pain affects them through acceptance, discover what’s truly important to their in life and how they can apply this knowledge to reshape their everyday life.

The course has been scientifically assessed and proven to have a positive effect on the impacts of pain. So far it is only available in German.

Image credit: HelloBetter Chronic Pain website

vorvida® is an online program that can be accessed 24/7 on any device. It uses artificial intelligence to interact with you like a live therapist, asking you questions and analysing your responses to provide customised feedback and strategies to help you manage your drinking behaviours. One interesting aspect is that it was designed to prioritise users privacy.

A clinical trial proved that vorvida® helped the participants drink less in as little as 3 months.

Image credit: vorvida

Reminder apps

MyTherapy is a personal pill reminder and medication tracker app. You can also set reminders for measurements and activities such as check weight, blood pressure, heart rate or schedule activities like running or yoga. It also allows you to set up a symptom check where you can enter how you’re feeling and record symptoms such as racing heartbeat or chest pain.

Image credit: MyTherapy

Electronic health records (EMR)

Instead of a pile of physical files, patient data can now be stored in a single place. This way both patients and multiple doctors can access lab results, medical information, at anytime.

FreddieMed is an EMR solution that helps medical clinics streamline processes related to billing, data security, document management, patient communication, and more on a centralised platform. Doctors are able to schedule appointments, send reminder emails, conduct video consultations, send prescriptions, create consultation notes, and collaborate with team members on cases.

Image credit: Software Advice

WebMD is an healthcare app that comprises multiple functionalities. You can check your symptoms, set medication reminders, get alerts when allergens are high, access in-depth drug information, discover treatments for a specific conditions and find doctors and make appointments.

Image credit: Google Play

Shaping the future of healthcare

While more patients have preference for digital healthcare and telehealth, most healthcare professionals are already using health apps at work for accessing electronic health records, communicating with their colleagues, medical references, or simply managing their schedule.

With the rapid growth of the healthcare digital market, there are plenty of opportunities for innovation regarding the user experience in healthcare. Web solutions need to meet the needs of healthcare professionals, patients, and businesses, while being comprehensive and accessible. UX can help make lives easier for patients, doctors, nurses, care givers, and ultimately save lives.

Looking for a partner for healthcare UX?

As a UX consultancy, we’ve been involved in a few projects in the healthcare field for major brands like Lilly, Bayer, LifeExtension and Atida Mifarma.

Being aware that the design of healthcare products comes with greater responsibility, we strive to build products and services with the user in mind, be that patients or healthcare providers. For that we strongly rely on research and usability testing, assuring we’re meeting users’ needs and guaranteeing a great user adoption.

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