Healthcare leaders know that patient trust and engagement has become more important than ever before. This is especially true now that successful patient care depends on strong digital tools and services to move the patient journey forward.
But you can get out ahead of the friction, frustration, and confusion that usually erodes patient trust and engagement by planning proactively. Below, we share actionable strategies that you can employ in the course of your digital design and development efforts that ultimately lead to better patient trust and loyalty.
1. Know the breadth and needs of your patient care audience
As evidence-based designers, we can’t stress enough the importance of understanding your audience , what they need from your tools, and the existing pain points that are causing distrust. Ideally, your team will already have a feedback loop in place to gather this information to inform work at the product design and development level.
But it’s also important to fully understand you’re building solutions for. Very often, the secondary audiences involved in patient care are overlooked during planning and implementation.
Other personas in the patient care experience may include:
- Caretakers — While the patient experience is the central focus, caretakers are an often-overlooked audience for many digital tools and platforms, especially if the patient in their care cannot accomplish key digital tasks themselves. If tools do not provide easy ways for caretakers and alternate contacts to make decisions or communicate on behalf of the patient, this can cause delays in your patients’ access to care. This group may include at-home nurses, in-office healthcare providers, spouses or adult children, and more.
- Office managers — The staff at medical offices play a significant role at the point of care, during follow-up conversations, and between patient touchpoints. Often, office managers’ experience with digital tools and individual skill level will vary widely. Many times it’s assumed only a doctor will access the tool or platform, when in reality, office managers may be the sole or primary user of digital tools-often completing tasks on behalf of or in the name of the doctor.
- Case managers — The people working directly with patients to assist with complex care are advocating for the patient in very high-touch situations that require the most paperwork, process, and follow up. These are some of the busiest users, and securing time to interview this group will be a challenge, but their perspective will provide some of the greatest value.
Including some or all of the roles above in your audience personas and user research efforts will ensure that patients and their extended care team feel comfortable, confident, and clear on how to move through actions and steps.
A note on accessibility
It’s also important to acknowledge the layer of permanent or temporary accessibility considerations you should always be planning for — especially in a healthcare setting. A patient’s ability to access and use tools, find information, and complete necessary tasks will be wide and varied.
- Some very sick patients may not be as physically capable of getting to a computer to log into a portal and may need to use voice command options.
- Patients recovering from wrist or hand surgery may have a hard time navigating your site with a mouse.
- Elderly patients with visual challenges may find it difficult to read small or low-contrast text on your digital forms.
- Nurses or office managers accessing your tools with a tablet may not have a full keyboard to use.
Of course, any user with existing auditory, visual, or other physical challenges will require accessible tools designed with their needs in mind .
2. Use a service design mindset to understand your patient experience
Similar to the complexity that exists in your audience, there is inherent complexity in your patient journey-especially today as telehealth and portal communication are popular, yet many patients still want or need to complete steps and tasks during office visits, too.
Using a service design approach to understand your patient journey is essential. Your teams should spend time understanding the fundamentals of service design in order to start thinking with a service design mindset, which allows for deeper understanding of the patient experience and the associated “backstage” activities that enable their journeys.
One helpful way to ground your product design and development decisions in a service design mindset is to ask a few key questions:
- What is the value of the thing you’re trying to get a patient to do at any point in their journey?
- Who are the people involved in the patient experience, and what is happening behind the scenes to enable key patient activities?
- How are you conveying important information to the patient in a way that they understand?
Here’s a common example to consider: say a patient has talked to a doctor about getting a prescription medication, but there is a long timeline for getting it — and the patient has no context for what is happening behind the scenes or who is involved during that waiting period. Your patient portal could be the best way of communicating the status of that prescription request. But does the patient know that, or are they worried about the status and calling the office weekly for an update?
Challenges like these can also start at the distributor, or even the doctor. There’s a lot of room for error if information or instructions aren’t communicated thoroughly to everyone who needs it.
Map out the digital vs. physical touchpoints
This step is essential in the healthcare industry-and for building patient trust. When a patient visits the office, joins a telehealth appointment, or logs onto a patient portal to view a new message, various steps are involved in each action, both from the patient and from the staff behind the scenes.
Familiarize yourself with the journey mapping process, and use this view into the patient experience as a basis for planning and decision making. This is the best way to assure patients that the entire system is working in unison.
3. Build the right solution with support from crucial teams
Creating a plan for how to build something new is important, but when it’s time to design the solution, it’s essential to involve the people at your organization who will help you get it done.
IT and technical discovery
We’ve seen time and time again that failing to talk to internal IT teams or to engage in technical discovery early in the design process will almost always throw off your plans by the time you’re ready to build. You can have a great vision, but if you develop ideas that are untenable — whether due to technology limitations or existing requirements — you will not be able to hit the aggressive launch dates you set. By prioritizing tech discovery, you’re properly diagnosing the scope of the problem early.
Legal and compliance
Regulatory constraints, particularly with respect to HIPAA compliance, are paramount in the healthcare industry. While talking to IT and doing technical discovery, you should always collaborate with legal, regulatory, and technology teams to ensure that any digital platforms you use are HIPAA-compliant and protect patients’ privacy.
It’s also important to include key stakeholder groups like case managers and office managers in stages of the design process. While gathering their feedback in the user research process is essential, giving these groups more involvement during the design iteration process ensures that the actual intended users of a tool will respond positively to the end result.
4. Use change management principles to ensure everything goes as planned
Investing in digital transformation in healthcare can often have far-reaching impacts not only on your target audience, but also all of the staff that support the experience behind the scenes. A thoughtful plan for change management — whether to align and gather buy-in, or to communicate and implement the vision for change — is crucial to its success.
We’ve heard many stories about how intended audiences (patients, doctors, or other healthcare professionals) don’t use tools after their launch-either completely, or not as intended. Most often, this issue is caused by a lack of clear communication before, during, and after a launch-both to the user, and the internal teams making the change happen.
Establish a change vision and create a communication plan to share it
A change vision is the initial vision established by the core group working through a digital transformation effort. While many transformation efforts do manage to establish a rudimentary vision of what needs to change, this vision will only come to fruition with an effective communication plan and organizational buy-in.
Build a coalition (and get buy-in for the vision)
You’ve established a vision for change. Next, find the people who should be involved in bringing the change to life and develop a strong communications plan for how everything will roll out. If there are points of confusion, questions, or concerns that come up from anyone involved, take the time to address them. Gather as much feedback and information as you can, and make adjustments to the plan.
Leaders who only focus on launching new tools, updates, or features often miss this step, but it’s time well spent-and an essential part of launching your initiative successfully.
Identify resistors (and bring them on board)
There are many reasons that both customers and employees may resist a change to their status quo. Understanding and addressing sources of this resistance is key to creating lasting change. Start with the resistors in your organization and simply hear them out. You’ll most likely gain a better understanding of their perspective, and from there, you can help them see the greater vision. After a mutual respect and understanding are established, ask them to stay involved in building an outcome that works for everyone.
Build and sustain momentum
Now that you have the key people involved and on board, you’ll want to focus on gathering momentum to keep everyone engaged. First, observe short-term wins and communicate those back to the team. This helps people see how their continued involvement makes an impact. Short-term wins you could share back include:
- Celebrations of releases and launches
- Positive changes to user behavior observable through analytics or other engagement tools
- Increased patient feedback through standard channels
- Measureable decreases in pain points or friction within the patient experience
While short-term wins are a much-needed form of validation for you and your team, it’s crucial to keep the momentum going so that your hard-won change efforts stick.
Here are examples of good habits to ensure ongoing success:
- Create, follow, and iterate on your measurement plan to continue gathering feedback on the success of your transformation efforts.
- Make sure your budget properly accounts for ongoing support and improvements to avoid stagnation.
- Continue to identify and address resistance to your change efforts after the initial implementation to prevent your efforts from fizzling out after the first celebratory milestone.
- Establish a team to focus on ongoing improvements so that your long-term goals do not fall by the wayside as focus moves onto other efforts.
Long-term wins should address challenges and pain points more holistically, but they will take some time to prove themselves out.
One important note on UX measurement is that your team should gather baseline analytics, metrics, and figures before launch in order to have something to compare to later. You need to socialize the improvement you’re seeing (for the patient, for teams, and for the organization) to keep everyone invested for future iterations.
Be an advocate for excellent patient service
Healthcare leaders recognize the increasing significance of patient trust given today’s digital-driven landscape. Understanding the breadth and needs of the patient care audience, adopting a service design mindset, engaging the right teams, and employing change management principles ultimately helps you work towards a strong, consistent, and reliable solution-which is the foundation of building an experience that patients feel good about.
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