Following the outbreak of COVID-19, telehealth technology has finally moved into the mainstream. In the United States, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced a much-needed expansion in telehealth services aimed at providing a safe and secure gateway to help patients. While the lockdowns and social distancing regulations helped accelerate the shift to telehealth, it is clear that this technology will remain relevant even in the post-pandemic world.
To unlock its full potential though, there needs to be a focus on patient-centered care.
Why Patient-Centered Care?
A “better” patient holds the key to creating a better healthcare system. What defines a better patient? It is an individual who is more knowledgeable, health-conscious, empowered, and incentivized to take preventative actions. One who is in control of their health data.
By focusing on patients, healthcare tools will be designed in a manner that will empower patients to become healthier. And, this does not refer to online diagnostic systems that enjoy perceived efficiency, such as WebMD.
Patient-centric healthcare tools are those that have medical professionals involved at every step to provide authentic diagnosis and treatment along with wellness programs to create healthier populations.
A broader concept of telehealth covers a range of activities that support the patient and the public in being healthy: prevention, promotion, diagnostics, self-care, and treatment. Thus, patient-centered telehealth technology can reduce the overall costs and burden on the healthcare system and spare the limited resources to care for emergencies and chronic conditions requiring specialized care the most.
What Are Patient-Centric Telehealth Tools?
From the design perspective, patient-centered healthcare tools mean delivering individualized treatment to optimize care. These efforts should work to eliminate avoidable suffering, such as prolonged waiting for test results, delay in procuring medication, or insurance-related issues. It is about delivering the right service for the patient when and where they need it.
To begin with, it is important to address the challenges in terms of technical as well as psychological barriers in the way of delivering quality telehealth solutions:
- That traditionally, healthcare has been delivered in-person.
- The apprehension in sharing sensitive and personal details online.
- The complicated functioning of existing telehealth tools.
Before the pandemic struck, patients largely stayed away from telemedicine owing to their lack of familiarity with these services. Amwell’s 2019 Consumer Survey revealed that only 8 percent of U.S. consumers tried telehealth prior to COVID-19. However, Forrester analysts projected that, due to the pandemic, more than one billion virtual healthcare interactions will occur by the end of the year.
4 Tips for Designing Patient-Centric Telehealth Tools
The increased use of telehealth presents an opportune moment to shift design to put the patient first. And these are four guiding principles to help accomplish that.
1. Start With the Right Research
User research is the foundation of all technology, but it is even more crucial in the case of healthcare and particularly telehealth technology. Research of actual users is what will reveal their true pain points — a patient with arthritis who struggles to hold the device in her hand for long and so needs shorter consultations, a patient with motor skill issues who needs voice command features, or someone with impaired hearing who requires captioning for telecalls.
Research data holds the key to creating a wholesome app that is inclusive and serves every healthcare need. Make use of research methods such as user interviews and observational studies to get an authentic account of their behavior. User research and testing should go on throughout the design cycle to get feedback at every stage, thus ensuring that the released version satisfies usability parameters.
2. Establish Safety and Security
People are naturally concerned about sharing their medical data online. As humans, we tend to be more trusting of sharing personal health details during face-to-face interactions, but hesitate to do it via devices. This is especially true of older populations.
So, how can designers ensure transparency in online data sharing to make users feel more secure? It can be done by clarifying the following:
- Why is the information being collected?
- Who will be allowed to view it?
- What channels will be used to transmit it?
- Where would it be stored safely?
- What tracking measures, if any, will be used?
Additionally, users are bound to be more trusting of a telehealth tool when it emphasizes on the human element — that it is simply a secure channel for patients to connect with their personal doctor or a board-certified doctor to emphasize the human element. Design it in a manner that reminds the patients of this fact.
3. Rely on the Comfort of Familiarity
There’s virtually no space to experiment while designing layouts and interfaces for telehealth applications (or healthcare applications in general). A user does not need the added stress of figuring out how to use a telehealth application. Therefore, it is crucial for designers to understand where the user stands in their journey when they reach out to a telehealth solution.
Assuming that they’re already in some state of distress, it is better to place search boxes, menus, and other features where users expect to find them. Do not ask for irrelevant details and limit the steps needed to take any action. Rather, do all it takes to limit frustration.
4. Design for Accessibility
Telehealth applications should be designed for accessibility as patients will have varying physical, motor, and comprehension skills, not to mention language barriers. Not all patients speak the same language or have the same mobility. Accessibility, therefore, is paramount.
Make provisions for:
- Translation in multiple languages, including sign language.
- Real-time transcription and captioning in multiple languages.
- Voice activation and screen reading.
- Larger font sizes.
- Familiar icons.
- Simple terminology.
It is important to design a telehealth solution that is simple to use and accounts for the patient’s technical and physical limitations. In this case, patent-centered design follows the same principles as user-centric design — it keeps the focus on the user, keeps it simple, and is based on user research.
There is no doubt that telehealth technology is here to stay, but it has to be designed to significantly uplift healthcare delivery to be truly life-changing. It is therefore crucial that telehealth applications have to be well-executed and purposefully aligned to be patient-centric and match their needs holistically.