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GuidesPatient experienceHow to design better user experiences for physicians

How to design better user experiences for physicians

Last updated

25 November 2023

Author

Jean Kaluza

The US healthcare system has been riddled with efficiency problems for decades. Infamously known for its convoluted and tedious processes, the system has patients avoiding medical appointments even when they are absolutely necessary.

All parties face obstacles—including appointments being booked out months in advance, an influx of patient correspondence, documentation and paperwork trails, and more. It’s time to explore how best to improve user experience (UX) in this space.

Although patients have an immense wish list of improvements they want to discuss, this article will focus on physicians’ experiences.

UX research, ethnographic studies, and product development teams can make processes more seamless, fluid, and efficient. Applied to the healthcare space and, more specifically, physicians’ tasks, UX is the often-overlooked answer to many problems.

What is medical UX design?

There’s no official job title for a UX professional who works in the medical space, but the practice is sometimes referred to as “medical UX design.” Across the UX field, people more commonly refer to these individuals as UX researchers or UX designers who work in the medtech space.

These professionals work with healthcare workers, facilities, and other companies in the healthcare sector to provide research and solutions to improve the handling of healthcare services (or whatever goal the project may have). A UX researcher or designer’s goal in medtech would be to improve experiences, systems, and processes, allowing for the best and simplest solutions.

Efficiency challenges physicians face and how UX has helped so far

Let’s look at the problems physicians face today.

The burden of paperwork and electronic health record (EHR) systems are among some of the top efficiency challenges in the healthcare sector. But UX can’t fix all the challenges physicians face, as some are systemic in nature.

Below are seven of the challenges that digital product solutions can help solve through UX methodologies:

1. The burden of paperwork

Paperwork, documentation, and compliance are among the most notorious problems in the healthcare system. Unfortunately, once all the paperwork has been filled and filed, it does nothing to ease the amount of time still needed for doctor–patient consultation. UX digital solutions have generated some improvements for these issues.

MyChart

Since its inception, the patient portal app MyChart has been something of a breakthrough for the medical community. It provides document-handling capabilities, including access to EHRs, patient–doctor notes and directives, and online scheduling.

According to the Patient Experience Journal, MyChart has significantly benefited patients by enabling them to track their own health information. It provides better documentation of communications and information during and between visits to the doctor’s office. These kinds of capabilities can also improve physicians’ experiences.

MyChart has decreased the need for patient–doctor consultations between visits, drastically reducing the time physicians spend monitoring their inboxes. But this only came about after vigorous and thorough studies were done to help mitigate any unforeseen problems before release.

A National Library of Medicine publication details the lessons learned about MyChart before its public release. For example, during implementation, disruptions occurred due to the new innovations, a lack of technical and project management skills, and technical friction points on the physician and patient sides. During the study, a lack of centralized decision-making became problematic and internal and external teams collided when collaboration was needed. Overall, the study recommended that MyChart be further evaluated before being released for wider implementation.

Studies like this show how much UX and research preparation go into technological advances in healthcare.

Practo

Practo is a healthcare app designed in part by Sriram Manogar, a dentist turned UX designer. The platform allows users to search for and book appointments with doctors, view their medical history, order medicines, and consult with specialists.

2. Burnout/work–life balance

Harnessing UX methods can address many issues in the healthcare space, but none are more pressing than physician burnout.

Let’s start by defining physician burnout to understand where UX could provide the most benefits.

The daily problems doctors face can lead to stress and more time spent working, causing burnout for some. According to Mayo Clinic’s recent report, physician turnover is causing US citizens to spend an additional $979 million in costs annually. A third of those costs are linked to physician burnout.

A solid UX research plan is needed to address this problem, investigating possible causes, identifying base metrics, and establishing which solutions could offer the most relief.

Modernizing Medicine

UX research company Modernizing Medicine focuses specifically on investigating and designing to increase clinician efficiency.

Focussing on EHRs, the company employs intelligence amplification to decrease information overload and big data to analyze behaviors across all physicians. It also streamlines electronic prior authorizations (ePAs) by reducing the data entry needed to request them.

3. Third-party interference

According to the Medical Economics 89th Annual Physician Report, 70% of physicians claim “third-party interference” is the biggest challenge they face. The US healthcare system involves many different elements, including government mandates, regulations, and attestation requirements; quality metric and certification obligations; hospitals; EHR vendors; and physician advocacy groups. That’s not forgetting restrictions from narrow networks (health plans that only pay out for treatment from a limited selection of providers) and private payers.

Unfortunately, this is more of a systemic problem brought on by the complex interweaving of government regulations, pharmaceutical companies, and insurance providers. UX solutions can’t easily solve these issues, especially when the systems themselves are designed to be as intricate as possible.

RXNT

Some practice management (PM) software and tools are available to improve physicians’ experiences with such impossible systems. One such solution—RXNT—is a vital tool for physicians that helps streamline administrative workflows with its centralized cloud. However, all parties need to be on the platform.

Software like RXNT might not be able to directly resolve the problem of third-party interference, but further UX research could find common denominators and use them to help facilitate more cohesive systems for physicians.

4. Electronic health record systems

Electronic health record systems are being revolutionized to address burnout, presenting a major opportunity for UX to step in with solutions.

While healthcare providers are encouraged to complete point-of-service documentation in an effort to reduce time-consuming note-taking, this takes time and attention away from patients and negatively impacts the patient–provider relationship. It’s a sticking plaster solution. It doesn’t fix the problem of insurers or organizations not paying providers for their time.

Due to their complicated interfaces and extensive data-entry processes, doctors spend over 16 minutes per patient updating EHRs. This leaves just 15 minutes, or even less, for most patient interactions.

Kareo

Kareo is a popular solution for physicians needing a better EHR system. It’s designed with physicians in mind using UX best practices. There’s an open call for physician participants to help with continuing improvement efforts.

Known for its seamless usability and fluid data entry, Kareo is just one of many UX EHR systems removing friction from physicians’ tasks.

5. Low staffing levels

USAToday calls the shortage of healthcare staff “the nation’s top patient safety concern.” This problem has become increasingly apparent since the pandemic.

Fortunately, this is another area where UX can provide solutions.

Shift Admin

Shift Admin provides a powerful user interface and is top-rated when it comes to physician scheduling. It provides automated schedule generation based on a clever algorithm. Healthcare providers can customize it to suit their unique scheduling needs.

6. Information overload

An often overlooked problem physicians face is having to consume, remember, handle, and apply an impressive (and often impossible) amount of medical information. Even the smartest minds aren’t built to handle the enormous libraries of medical literature that doctors and specialists are expected to. This is where a digital solution with optimized UX can help.

Visual DX

Visual DX is a popular indexing and search tool used by physicians to look up patient symptoms. They can also use it to discover possible diagnoses and view reference images. Think Google, but make it medical. Physicians can use Visual DX to easily keep up with the latest research trends and news.

Medscape

As a reliable medical news app, Medscape is hugely popular among physicians. It’s a great example of UX in the medical space.

The platform has great UX—good news for overworked physicians.

Epocrates

This well-known app provides clinical decision-making support tools and up-to-date information about drugs and diseases.

Epocrates is used by over 50% of physicians across the US and is known as the “gold standard” of medical apps for physicians.

7. Not enough time left to focus on patient care

Scheduling is a large source of frustration and time consumption for both physicians and patients. 

According to Annals of Internal Medicine, doctors only have 27% of their time left to interact with their patients after scheduling tasks. Fortunately, many UX digital solutions already exist to alleviate these difficulties.

ZocDoc

Since virtual appointments became commonplace, ZocDoc has been a key scheduling and booking resource for physicians. The solution has taken the guesswork, insurance problems, and endless back and forths and transformed them into a digital solution. This relieves physicians and healthcare staff from the effort and time spent scheduling both virtual and in-person appointments.

Why doctors are key to healthcare UX

Medical staff are a key source of ideas and data for UX teams to draw from to bring digital product solutions to fruition.

Doctors need to understand user-centered design

Doctors’ daily practices are made or broken by UX and user-centered design, which has a knock-on effect on their staff and patients. To address their own needs, doctors should understand and acknowledge the role UX- and human-centered design plays in improving outcomes.

Diagnosing patients is like diagnosing IT solutions

Just as doctors diagnose diseases and physical illnesses, UX designers solve human problems with human-centered solutions. They review the existing data, carry out qualitative interviews from the people dealing with the issue they are trying to solve, correlate these insights with quantitative data, and ultimately provide a successful outcome.

Together, physicians, UX designers, and researchers can create brilliant resolutions.

Doctors as UX researchers and champions

Doctors know healthcare best, so their participation in research is crucial. Ideally, doctors would request, support, and participate in UX initiatives. Doing so would enable them to provide UX designers with the information about daily activities and data needed to make helpful solutions a reality.

Medical and UX practitioners need to come together to craft the most efficient and streamlined healthcare processes. The Clinical User Experience Association (CUXA), where physicians are encouraged to participate in developing the best solutions to their problems, is a great example.

UX methodologies can only go so far without the support of nurses, doctors, and physicians.

Doctors are more than just doctors

Doctors and medical professionals are nothing short of extraordinary. Not only does their incredibly demanding field require medical knowledge and a good bedside manner, but it also comes with many avoidable problems that statistically end in exhaustion and burnout.

The healthcare and UX communities need to acknowledge this and look toward UX as a partner to physicians that helps establish a positive work–life balance, efficient processes, and a better healthcare experience for all.

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