My Design Approach for the Health Design Challenge – Part I

My submission to the Health Design Challenge is now publicly viewable! View it here.

What’s the Health Design Challenge?

This is a challenge created by the USA Veterans Affairs medical organization, the White House and Designer Fund to rethink how we more effectively present a patient’s medical history to people. Currently, the system prints out these “reports” that resembles receipts from the 90s and are difficult to read and understand. This challenge is to redesign the layout of these such that everybody, patients, family members and health professionals can quickly and easily find information they need and so they can make better health decisions.

Why do this? You’re not an American!

I know that the incentive for most people is the prize money. There’s a whooping $50000 in total prize money, with the 1st place best overall design receiving $16000. I am a Canadian though and thus is not eligible to win it. So people ask me, why do I bother spending so much time working on this? FYI: I’ve dedicated all my free time in the last 2.5 weeks on this. Clocked in 30+ hours on top of my full-time work schedule. That’s $1.5+k if I were to spend it freelancing. I also don’t believe in spec work. I don’t ever participate in design contests.

So why this? Because I believe in the cause.

My background is in pharmacology. Even though I now do UX stuff and work as an information architect, I still have a strong interest in health related issues. I recall having discussions back in the days with my supervisors who are physicians about the inefficiencies when it comes to collecting patient details, how our aging medical record keeping systems simply doesn’t cut it any more and whether we can introduce some grassroots movement within local medical units to improve this. But we never gotten very far because this is a huge problem that ultimately needs institutional support… So when I read the TechCrunch post about this challenge to improve patient medical records by redesigning the reports, I told myself I have to participate.

I’ve also recently attended the FITC Vancouver 2012. I was inspired by Myron Campbell (@notsosimpleton) and James White (@Signalnoise) to make time to work on personal projects, and to try something new. I’ve never really done information design before… that twitter infographr thing doesn’t quite count… so I decided to pour my energy into learning and experimenting with this project.

My Approach

I applied my standard methodology when it came to working on this redesign, which is to say frame the question first. This is something I learnt while I was conducting scientific experiments in the lab… before you can come up with anything, you need to first do background research in the area.

User Analysis

Since we have 3 user groups: Patient, Family Caregivers, Medical Professionals, I decided to talk to people in each of those roles to get a better understanding of what is important to them when it comes to managing a patient’s health.

I discovered the following:

  • From Patients:
    • Most tend to be elderly with visual impairment. It is important that the material is displayed in sufficiently large font size with good contrast so they can read it easily
    • Have a hard time keeping track of their medications. Elderly folks are often prescribed a number of different drugs. Sometimes they have difficulties remember which one they need to take, how many, and when they should be taking them. It would be useful if this information is easy to find in the report.
    • Want to know more about their current health in a non-technical way. They are interested in knowing about their current health conditions, but found the language of the current report too technical and were not sure what different things meant.
  • From Family Members / Caregivers:
    • Frequently need to juggle between work, their own family and taking care of the patient (their aging parents). They would like to be able to quickly scan the report to find the relevant information and do so whenever they need it. Nice to have the option to view it on a device.
    • When is the patient due for a checkup? It often falls on the caregiver to drive the patient to the hospital or the clinic for routine checkups. So  they need to be reminded when checkups are due and also phone in to make/confirm the appointment.
    • Want to know more about the patient’s current health and things that can be done to improve or maintain it. Like the patient, they would also like easy, non-technical summaries that they can readily comprehend.
  • From Health Professionals (physicians, pharmacist, nurses):
    • Talked to physicians and pharmacists I have contacts with (couldn’t reach a nurse)
    • Patient demographics and contact information is the most valuable information in the report. This should be placed at the top.
    • Additional, more detailed information about the patient can frequently be accessed elsewhere. This report is good for a quick scan on the patient’s medical history, but should not be used directly when determining diagnosis / treatments.
    • They are super busy, being able to access patient information on their devices makes it much easier to deal with than printouts.

Field Analysis

After receiving these general comments, I examined the different fields provided by the software. I started grouping and sub-grouping fields together based on relevance.

Here’s how I grouped demographic info:

  • First Name, Last Name
    • Everybody needs to be able to identify who this report is for
  • Address, Telephone
    • Highly useful for Health Professionals or anybody that needs to reach the patient
  • Gender, Birthday
    • Super useful for Health Professionals, but rarely for anybody else.
    • Let’s keep this small so it doesn’t take up too much space.
  • Religious Affiliation, Ethnicity, Language Spoken
    • Lower level of usefulness, Language was identified as the more important field in the bunch
    • Language is placed as the last item to facilitate scanning. Our eyes intuitively stops at the divider line. When our gaze halts on the line, “English” is at the edge of our reading periphery. If language was important to us, our eyes recognize the shape of the word and we automatically focus on it.

Similarly, I noticed the information given in the Encounter & Procedure section is nearly identical. The distinction between these two types of actions is purely semantics. Few users would ever care to distinguish between them. So I decided to combine these into a single section and de-emphasized the type.

After grouping the fields, I started ranking these groups based on their relative importance and obtained my group sequence…

Continue onto Design Approach – Part II