A staggering 55 percent of patients have lost trust in a healthcare provider after a negative experience. Sometimes, that trust is broken during interactions with a medical device or digital therapeutic.
Maybe a patient’s diabetes management app uses overly clinical language, or perhaps it doesn’t walk them through every app feature. For many patients, it’s clear that new medical technology (or medtech) isn’t effectively providing the experience needed to improve their medical condition.
The good news: a few key considerations can help improve the patient experience with any new medtech solution. Here, I’ll offer three.
Teach Patients How to Use Your Product
To trust a new medtech product, patients first need to understand how it works. Without enough front-end knowledge, a patient might use a product incorrectly – say, by firing an auto-injector into their thumb because it is unclear which end contains the needle. The result: a harmful patient experience that can shatter trust in a product’s ability to support their care.
By making it easy to understand and use new products, medtech manufacturers can inspire trust from the first patient interaction. Two important design areas to consider: the form factor and instructional materials.
For physical devices, the right form factor can oftentimes make written instructions superfluous by providing visual and tactile affordances to ensure proper use. Take an epinephrine auto-injector, for example. The patient should be able to easily…
- Tell which end contains the needle or jet injector. This might be distinguished by shape (e.g., tapered) alongside clear identifying language in a large font.
- Know which cap to remove before an injection. The right cap might be signaled via color (e.g., bright orange) or texture (e.g., ribbed).
- Find the button or release that triggers the injection. Manufacturers can signal this via size, shape, or texture.
- See the drug being injected. This might be demarcated with a clear window and identifying language.
Every medtech product comes with instructions for use of some sort. But many patients skim them (or worse, ignore them altogether) – which means they’re often missing out on the critical information that ensures safe and effective use.
While every effort should be made to leverage affordances in the design of these products so that the intended use is as intuitive as possible, instructional materials are still necessary to communicate more complex information and highlight critical safety information. Well-designed instructional materials give patients the most important information in bite-sized chunks. For example, a medtech manufacturer might…
- Design a quick-start guide with visuals to accompany a connected blood pressure monitor.
- Provide an in-app onboarding tour for a wearable fitness tracker’s companion app.
By presenting information in a digestible format, manufacturers can consistently onboard patients with any device or therapeutic. And with clear written instructions up front, patients can feel more confident using new medtech solutions.
Whether streamlining a product’s form factor or instructional materials, it’s important to account for various use scenarios that might shape patient interactions. Novice users may need every step and feature spelled out. Experienced users, on the other hand, may only want the highlights of the latest product update. By keeping a range of use scenarios in mind, medtech manufacturers can better tailor each front-end product interaction – and ultimately build trust.
Show Patients They’re Properly Using Your Product
Once patients know how to use a new medtech product, they’ll need clear feedback that they’re properly executing each step.
Often, that’s as simple as a series of clicks or beeps during use. Some auto-injectors, for instance, emit an initial click to signal the start of an injection; a second click signals that the injection is complete. More advanced auto-injectors might even include a visual indicator (e.g., a light that turns from blue to green) to denote each stage.
With the right feedback, patients can more confidently use new medtech solutions. But to consistently build and maintain trust, it’s important for manufacturers to leverage continuous user research. This way, manufacturers can evolve their products to meet users’ needs. Here’s a real-world example to illustrate.
Years ago, the first epipen models were fairly basic: patients would read a set of instructions on the device itself before using it to inject epinephrine into their thigh.
The problem? For many first-time epipen users, years elapse between being prescribed their auto-injector and needing to use it. So when an allergic reaction hits, they may no longer be familiar with the epipen’s instructions. What’s more, maybe the written instructions have faded over time, or the patient might be too stressed to make sense of them.
But today, medtech manufacturers are talking more to patients about their reality – and applying those insights to each new product. For example, one manufacturer designed an epinephrine auto-injector that accounts for the lag between prescription and use. The device provides verbal feedback alongside written instructions that guide patients through the injection process.
The takeaway: with the right user research, manufacturers can identify patients’ pain points and design products that meet changing needs.
Empathize With Each Patient’s Healthcare Situation
I’ll never forget a time when I was conducting research for an auto-injector; it was a novel way to administer a particular drug. Up until that point, it had always been a traditional syringe and vial-type treatment.
When one of the patients we were working with learned about this auto-injection technology, she almost broke down in tears. The reason? In her experience, needles and syringes were heavily stigmatized at the time. So whenever she had to self-administer her medication, she associated the action with the prevailing attitudes around addiction. But thanks to our client partner’s auto-injector design, she could manage her healthcare without feeling ashamed in front of her daughters.
Designing with empathy means paying attention to patient experiences like these. By accounting for patients’ anxieties and stressors surrounding their condition, medtech manufacturers can build products that patients want to use.
Sometimes, that might look like a physical design update (like the auto-injector example above). And other times, that might mean adding features that account for patient needs beyond the product’s primary use.
For example, consider a digital therapeutic that’s intended to treat symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease. Its primary purpose might be to help patients improve their motor function and skill retention. But a manufacturer can deliver more by providing…
- A daily mood assessment log.
- Informational usage tooltips that account for users’ cognitive decline.
- In-app acknowledgements of a user’s particular condition.
With an empathetic approach to design, manufacturers can help patients feel more cared for throughout the full course of their disease management. The benefit: more trust in the product they’re using.
Building Patient Confidence Depends On User Research
By taking the steps we’ve looked at above, medtech manufacturers can boost patients’ trust in new products during every interaction.
But improving trust can’t happen in a vacuum. To understand which areas to pinpoint, manufacturers need the right research.
A team of UX researchers can invest time and resources in collecting continuous user feedback about a new product. And with enough research up front, manufacturers can consistently design products that close the trust gap with patients.
About Korey Johnson
Korey Johnson is a Managing Partner at Bold Insighta user experience (UX) and human factors (HF) research agency. Korey has 15 years of experience in UX and HF research and is passionate about making medical devices safer and more effective.