Garnering the Patient Perspective: An Essential Step in Successful Software Design

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Considerations for developing health IT with patients in mind.

With the passage of the Patient Protection Affordable Care Act, organizations are looking to have their technology better support and enhance the patient and family engagement. To achieve this goal, organizations must be sure their software is designed with the patient's needs firmly in mind. This may involve committing to seek products that embrace a patient-centered design strategy. With this approach, patients influence the entire software development process, resulting in tools that are both easy to navigate and deliver accurate and useable information for patient care.

The benefits of patient-centric design
Patient-centric software is more than just a "nice to have" — there are tangible benefits to it. For example, patients are more likely to use software when it is designed according to their specific needs. Conversely, they will avoid products that do not enhance their care experience. Consider the patient portal designed without patient input. It may be difficult to log onto, cumbersome to navigate and not user friendly. Patients will avoid it, which defeats the whole purpose of a portal. Poor user adoption is a significant stumbling block to effective technology use. By mitigating this problem, organizations can get the most out of their technology investment.
 
In addition to promoting adoption, a patient-centered solution can make the patient’s interaction with the healthcare organization pleasant and efficient, increasing not only the patient's satisfaction with the practice but also the likelihood the patient will remain loyal and not seek treatment elsewhere. Healthcare is becoming more like a consumer marketplace every day, and if patients are not satisfied with the care experience or find it difficult to manage, they will not hesitate to go elsewhere. Making sure software promotes a positive experience is key to attracting and retaining patients.

Patient-centered design can also elevate the safety of patients. Consider the example of home monitoring software that a patient uses to report certain vital signs to his or her provider, such as blood pressure or glucose readings. If the software is straightforward, the patient is more likely to be compliant with recording the biometric data, so the physician can effectively monitor health remotely and make care decisions based on correct information. On the other hand, if the solution is inconvenient or it is hard to receive or record the true measurements, the patient may give up using the tool in frustration. And, if he or she does use the software, the readings may not be correct. The physician may inadvertently make decisions based on inaccurate clinical information, which could seriously jeopardize the patient's safety and long-term health.

Some software needs patient input more than others
Although almost all software can benefit from a design approach that keeps the patient at the forefront, certain tools require this methodology more than others. The most logical software to incorporate this approach is patient education tools, since the primary objective of this technology is to deliver information to the patient. Such software should include plain language, clear visuals and windows that are easy to navigate. There should also be intuitive places to seek clarification or receive further information.

Patient communication tools, such as the portal technology mentioned above, also warrant a patient-focused design to ensure communication is streamlined and manageable.

Don't forget the provider
Some forms of technology require both a patient- and a provider-focused design approach. For instance, home medical equipment software needs to be easy for the patient to use but also deliver patient data to the provider quickly and in a format that is meaningful. If the patient is happy with the software but the provider cannot use the information, the software will not be helpful. On the flip side, if the patient cannot interface with the tool, then the provider does not get the necessary information. In this case, balancing both perspectives is essential so that the software promotes optimal patient care—the primary goal of any piece of healthcare technology.

Get patients directly involved
To realize patient-centric design, software developers must directly involve patients in the crafting, testing and modifying of software. There are many ways to do this, including the following:

•    Focus groups
•    Surveys
•    Advisory panels
•    User groups
•    Beta testing with patients

It is important that any user research involve a variety of perspectives to ensure the software has broad appeal. Patients, providers and anyone else who interacts with or uses information from the software should weigh in on the design. Note that caregivers—family members or friends who help care for a patient—bring a unique perspective to the table. These individuals may use software just as much, if not more, than the patient. For example, a caregiver may leverage a portal to communicate with the patient’s physician or download test results.

Laying the groundwork for the future
In today's evolving healthcare landscape, where increasingly more organizations are empowering the patient to be part of the care team, it is extremely valuable to have software that fosters patient involvement and ensures the best care possible. Particularly as organizations pursue accountable care and value-based payment models that reward patient involvement in care management, tools that make it easy for patients to do the right thing for their health will be fundamental in achieving long-term success.

Scott Frederick, RN, BSN, MSHI, is the director of clinical insight at PointClear Solutions. Follow him on Twitter at @PointClearUXCI.

 

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