Designing for Health: Improving Patients' Quality of Life with Great UX
While design is not often thought of as lifesaving, user experience (UX) design can significantly improve and even save lives, especially when it comes to healthcare UX.
Learn how UX improves and saves lives from Andrew Kucheriavy, Intechnic’s Chief Experience Officer.
The complexity of UX in healthcare is extremely high. First, it needs to accommodate a very diverse group of patients, some with chronic health conditions and potential disabilities. Some of these patients are also older and may be less proficient at using technology. Also, healthcare UX needs to address the needs of equally diverse caregivers as well as busy healthcare providers (HCPs).
No room for error
The use of technology in healthcare is growing rapidly. New apps, websites, and portals spring up every year and aim to provide education, remind patients to take their medication, track symptoms, and connect with their HCPs.
Yet the healthcare industry is not known for its good, or even satisfactory, user experience. At the same time, healthcare is a sector where poor usability isn't just an annoyance but can lead to medical errors and devastating outcomes.
“To err is human” is a well-known saying, but a misunderstanding on the part of a clinician or patient can result in serious health consequences. Something as simple as forgetting to take medication or misreading a lab result can greatly affect the patient’s quality of life or even cost a life.
On the flip side, improving user experience can fulfill an enormous unmet need by simplifying the lives of patients as well as their caregivers and HCPs while improving health outcomes and building brand trust and loyalty.
Everyone benefits from medication adherence
Medication adherence, or whether patients take their medication as prescribed, is one of the fundamental topics in healthcare. Drug efficacy and safety are scrutinized in various studies, but the actual drug effectiveness is much harder to measure as it depends on whether patients actually take their prescribed medication in real-world scenarios.
Patients who adhere to their medical treatment have better health outcomes, with higher recovery rates or more effective management of chronic diseases.
Insurance companies and government entities are interested in higher medication adherence as it leads to drastically lower health spending. Over 90% of health plans tend to cover a more effective intervention, even if it is more costly than a similar treatment with lower effectiveness.1
Pharmaceutical companies typically do not study the potential rates of medication adherence for a new medication, but they benefit from higher adherence rates as well because of higher revenues from more medication use.
The cost of low treatment adherence
Studies show that up to 50% of patients do not take their medications as prescribed.2 Such low adherence rates are associated with 125,000 deaths per year, 10% of hospitalizations, $317 billion in added healthcare costs, and $637 billion in annual revenue loss for pharmaceutical companies.3-5
Access to medication is the greatest barrier to adherence
There are many issues that affect medication adherence. However, access to medication is one of the most significant factors and one that can be improved through patient support and education.
Andrew Kucheriavy, Intechnic’s Chief Experience Officer notes:
“Research conducted by Intechnic suggests that the biggest problem when it comes to medication adherence is access and affordability.
It’s not that patients do not want to take their medication. However, often they do not know about it, do not have access to it, or cannot afford it. Cost is usually the biggest barrier for patients to start taking medication and then stay on it.
There are so many obstacles in healthcare, in particular around insurance, that most patients and their caregivers simply do not know how to navigate. They are not aware of various cost-support programs that are available to them. Plus, they do not know how to navigate the world of insurance. For example, they are not sure how to verify their benefits or do a pre-authorization. As a result, patients often do not get access to a medication that can be potentially lifesaving to them.”
Patient support programs can help only if patients use them
In recent years, pharmaceutical companies have created numerous patient support programs, also known as patient solutions, assistance, or service programs, designed to improve access, usage, and adherence to prescription drugs. In fact, pharma companies spend more than $5 billion on patient support programs every year.6
The intent is appreciable, as the financial assistance combined with adherence intervention and clinical support can make a notable difference. However, according to a survey from Phreesia Life Sciences, only 3% of patients actually use these programs and only 8% have ever used support programs in their lifetime.7
The problem is not that patients aren’t interested in patient support programs. The majority of 5,000 patients surveyed said that such programs would be at least a little helpful for them.7 But the results suggest that most patients either do not know about these programs or find them mediocre, at best.8
Good UX is key to improving access and affordability of medication
So how can we approach the design of patient support portals to ensure that they provide value to the users? Emma Wigdahl, UX Strategist & Researcher at Intechnic, points out that speaking with patients is key to understanding their needs:
"It’s vital that we speak to the patients as we undertake each project to help us fully understand the problems that we are trying to solve on their behalf. By conducting interviews and doing usability tests, we discover what features are important to patients and find out what does and does not work for them. Our objective is to create a product that patients can easily use, find helpful, and will be more likely to engage with."
The main problem that we uncovered while interacting with patients during our research is just how difficult it is for them to understand the healthcare system, especially once you factor in all the medical jargon and the complexities of the insurance and the medical system. Lilie Pudnos, UX Strategist at Intechnic explains:
“It is very challenging for users to identify what specifically they need to do, what is their versus their provider’s job, and what it takes to get coverage for every procedure, surgery, or medication. Besides having a medical condition, patients are also worried about their finances. They constantly need to figure out what they are paying out of pocket and if there is a financial support system available to help them.
The answers to these questions are often scattered and difficult to find. And because it is such a confusing and tangled web of different experiences, it's difficult for users to trust the healthcare system. Patients are often overwhelmed and reluctant to trust the advertisements, the branded sites, and even the insurance companies.
Our main goal in every healthcare-related project is to create an empathetic experience for the user. When working on patient support programs, we want to show that pharma companies are on the patients’ side and striving to get them access to the medication and ensure that patients pay as little for it as possible for it.
Making the patient journey as simple as possible involves connecting the dots for the user, providing them with a step-by-step guidance in their journey, explaining the jargon, creating scannable sets of information, and offering resources and assistance every step of the way.”
How do we create support program websites that make patients and their caregivers feel guided and cared for, and build brand trust? It is all about empowering the patients to take control of their health and reassuring them that they are getting the best care possible. Here are some features that contribute to an empathetic and guided patient experience:
- Create a personalized experience for patients vs. providers
- Clearly explain the benefits of using the program
- Set expectations and show what to expect in the journey
- Guide the user through an easy-to-follow, step-by-step process
- Provide supportive content and imagery throughout the experience
- Include clear directions of the next steps while avoiding any dead ends
- Add helpful hints or tips and predict potential roadblocks
- Offer on-demand resources and education to help patients understand the process
With exceptional UX that focuses on the users’ needs, we can reinvent the experience that patients, caregivers, and HCPs have with patient support programs. Providing the level of empathy and guidance that patients need to navigate the complex world of healthcare will build trust, get them access to lifesaving medication, and even save lives.
- Garber AM. Cost-Effectiveness and Evidence Evaluation as Criteria for Coverage Policy. https://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/abs/10.1377/hlthaff.W4.284
- Brown MT, et al Medication Adherence: WHO Cares? Mayo Clin Proc. 2011;86(4): 304-14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3068890/
- Kleinsinger F. The Unmet Challenge of Medication Nonadherence. Perm J. 2018;22:18-033.
- Pittman T. Medication Nonadherence Increases Health Costs, Hospital Readmissions. Duke Health. November 20, 2018. https://physicians.dukehealth.org/articles/medication-nonadherence-increases-health-costs-hospital-readmissions
- Kottler T. Adherence: Addressing Pharma's Last-Mile Problem. PharmExec.com. June 5, 2018. https://www.pharmexec.com/view/adherence-addressing-pharmas-last-mile-problem
- Snyder Bulik B. Pharmas' return on $5B spent yearly on patient support programs? Only 3% are using them: survey. Fierce Pharma. 2021. https://www.fiercepharma.com/marketing/pharmas-return-5-billion-spent-yearly-patient-support-programs-only-3-use-survey
- Phreesia Life Sciences. Industry perspectives: Expanding awareness of patient support programs. https://lifesciences.phreesia.com/reports/expanding-awareness-patient-support-programs/
- Snyder Bulik B. Why don't patients love pharma apps? Because most are just mediocre, advocacy network says. 2020. https://www.fiercepharma.com/marketing/patients-lackluster-interest-pharma-apps-tied-to-low-awareness-and-value-says-patient