HealthcarePatient Engagement

UX and Healthcare Apps: 9 Key Ingredients, and Why Most Fall Short

What does anyone want in a practical, productive app? The user wants an attractive, intuitive, and simple to use app. More importantly, the user needs the app to do what it’s intended to do, without glitches.

For healthcare, the importance of user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) cannot be overemphasized. Patients inputting their medical data daily (or more frequently) or physicians updating medical records all day long need clean interfaces that simplify not complicate their lives.

But a boring or clunky app won’t draw in anyone to use it, which is critical to a health app. If it’s difficult to use or unreliable, it’s certainly not going to be effective for its intended purpose–patient health. In fact, it could be downright dangerous.


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So what’s in a healthcare app?

From a developer’s standpoint, there’s something called “Basic UX.” According to UX Magazine, a free community resource for “experience design,” Basic UX stands for the letters in the word basic:

  • Beautiful
  • Accessible
  • Simple
  • Intuitive
  • Consistent

healthcare apps ux - UX and Healthcare Apps: 9 Key Ingredients, and Why Most Fall Short

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1. Beautiful

The user’s experience sets the criteria for the design framework. So, for example, a beautiful app creates a perception of functionality in the user. If an app design doesn’t appear aesthetically pleasing, the user assumes it’s difficult to use, a phenomenon called the Aesthetic-Usability Effect. Sharp images and graphics properly aligned with the layout please users.

2. Accessible

An app’s accessibility measures the range of users able to access it, regardless of their abilities or disabilities (visual, hearing, intellectual, attention span, age, gender, physical ability, etc.). Is the app configured to accommodate the broadest population with varying font sizes, navigation tools, and plain language, for example?

3. Simple

Is the design simple? The answer should be yes; it’s fully automated to perform the necessary functions without clutter, unnecessary text or steps to get the app to do what it’s supposed to do. It should be convenient and make life easier, not add complexity.

4. Intuitive

Simplicity also relates to intuitive. Is the system easy to understand and easy to operate so that the user knows how to perform functions without confusion or a time-consuming study? The color scheme and location of buttons is an important design feature to create intuitiveness, especially if a user operating within multiple systems can instantly understand the design patterns.

5. Consistent

Consistency refers to the uniformity of all of the design features–colors, fonts, spacing, and alignments–which inspires user confidence in the dependability of the app.

But for healthcare, specifically, you need more than the basic UX. Designers must consider patient satisfaction, integration, usability, safety, and privacy. These competing (often conflicting) interests make healthcare app design terribly complex.

Patient Satisfaction

For healthcare, UX framework is critical. Patients need apps they’ll use regularly as a tool for maintaining or improving their health. The time to adopt the tool efficiently counts. It must be basic, as described above, but it also needs to be:

  • Integrated
  • Usable
  • Safe
  • Secure

Here’s a deeper dive into why each of these extra elements are crucial for healthcare apps:

6. Integrated

In the healthcare realm, it’s not only the patient but providers that must access health apps. And not only the providers but an entire healthcare system. So part of the healthcare app UX framework consideration is integration with other operations, say business operation tools of a hospital.

Does the health app information communicate with the computer system that the health administrator uses for updating records, for example? The entire patient process must be streamlined with the app.

So, how do designers know which apps will be both easily adopted by patients needing simplicity and integrated into a complex healthcare provider system? Well, they design with user empathy in mind, getting input from the ultimate users while designing. That’s what the “design thinking framework” is all about according to Macadamian, experts in healthcare app design.


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7. Usable

The Design Thinking Framework is based on industry standards upon which usability is defined:

“effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction with which the intended users can achieve their tasks in the intended context of product use.”

UX software design company Macadamian claims that designing healthcare apps with not only users in mind but users involved in the designing makes apps quickly adopted, easily used with fewer errors and more satisfaction.

healthcare apps usable - UX and Healthcare Apps: 9 Key Ingredients, and Why Most Fall Short

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8. Safe

However, healthcare apps must be more than functional and beautiful. They must be safe, meaning they must not put the patient in peril of losing his or her life. For example, a heart rate monitor that is inaccurate gives users a false sense of security if the readings are underestimating heart rates. And a glucose monitor on your smartphone is convenient and revolutionary–unless it’s inaccurate. Then, it’s very dangerous.

Healthcare apps can’t fail. They must deliver what they promise. That’s where ample testing and quality assurance comes into play.

healthcare apps safe - UX and Healthcare Apps: 9 Key Ingredients, and Why Most Fall Short

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9. Secure

Health apps must be secure. They must respect privacy laws (HIPAA) protecting private health information (PHI) but also secured against theft and hacking–the stuff of thriller murder movies with the twisted pacemaker hacker.

If the app anticipates the transmission of PHI to health care providers, HIPAA requires privacy protection, such that encryption might provide, for transmitted data, which includes everything from medical records to doctor appointments. And Europe and Canada have their own specifications and laws to consider.

healthcare apps secure - UX and Healthcare Apps: 9 Key Ingredients, and Why Most Fall Short

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…It’s Complicated

Putting the whole picture together, it seems nearly impossible to come up with a healthcare app that evokes empathy, cheery colors, simple design and intuitive usability while still being hardcore safe, secure, and legal.

It’s no wonder so many healthcare apps are just meh. There’s just too much to do and so much at stake. Of course, better safe and serious than cool and killer.