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UX research and process optimization

Surveys and user tests can be an approach to gearing IT solutions to the everyday challenges of nursing and administrative staff and also ill people, and complying with internal hospital workflows.


Zwei junge Männer stehen mit Smartphone an Whiteboard mit Skizzen und Post-Its zu einer App.

Optimum processes, excellent teams, and a good flow of information are the foundation of every hospital. In order to guarantee an efficient way of working, the procedures in the hospital must be constantly adapted to changing requirements. In light of current challenges such as the acute shortage of skilled labor in the nursing sector or the rising cost pressure, new digital solutions promise quick relief. What often sounds like a simple remedy involves an equally major task when it comes to implementing the solutions. In order to raise the potential for optimizing existing hospital processes, the needs of the users, both hospital staff and patients, must be taken into account when introducing new IT applications. UX research provides this change of perspective. Sabine Krause and Anna Pietrek, UX researchers at BEWATEC ConnectedCare GmbH, offer some insights from their everyday work and practical tips for hospitals.

Digitalization of hospital processes

The term “UX research” may be new to some of our readers. What does it mean, and can you explain which issues, tasks, and problems define your everyday work?

Sabine Krause: To put it briefly, we are the voice of the users in the company. “UX” is the abbreviation for user experience and that’s what our research focuses on. Our aim is to offer users the best possible user experience with our digital solutions such as the patient app. Is the design of the user interface confusing, is information missing in a menu item, or is the wrong information stored? Can users navigate through the menu quickly and intuitively? Answers to these and other questions define our everyday work.

Anna Pietrek: As Sabine already hinted at, our focus is on the users and their problems, challenges, and needs in day-to-day hospital life. The decision on a new IT application is usually made by the management levels at the hospital and solutions provider. The problem with this is that neither the sales director of the IT company nor the managing director of the hospital will use the application later on. What I’m trying to say is that the perspective of the users is often neglected. The crucial point is to switch perspectives away from the management and toward the needs of the users.

 

Understood. The focus is on the users, their needs, and the user experience. But who exactly are the users?

Anna Pietrek: That varies greatly and always depends on the project in question. In the context of the digitalization and optimization of hospital processes, there are three main groups of people that we address with our solutions. On the one side, there are the patients. This group plays a key role when it comes to making hospital processes simpler and more efficient for all parties involved. The entire patient admission process can be accelerated through the cooperation of the patients, good preparation, and complete documents. No patient has to fill out admission forms and provide address and health insurance information in the hospital and thereby take up the valuable time of a hospital employee. They can do this at home and via the app. The data is sent to the hospital via the app and everything is prepared on the day of admission.

On the other hand, our solutions are of course also designed with the hospital staff in mind. After all, someone has to process the information transmitted by the patients. Our users include the administrative hospital staff on the one hand and the nursing staff in the wards on the other hand.

 

Whether it’s mobile payments when shopping or online meetings for work, we come into contact with several user interfaces every day. What are the special challenges of UX research in healthcare?

Sabine Krause: That’s a good question. The adaptation of IT solutions to the hospital workflows is certainly a challenge. Hospital processes often have a long history and typically involve many different departments and stakeholders. Intervening here, even with the intention of solving existing problems and improving the workflow, is often a balancing act. An incremental and agile approach is the key here. Interests must be heard, weighed, and reconciled as best as possible. The better the IT solution and hospital process go together, the smoother the user experience and the greater the anticipated added value.

Anna Pietrek: Good expectation management is also important in this context. Many processes in hospitals are subject to legal regulations. In addition, IT security and data protection play a very important part, and rightly so. It simply takes time to always consider these aspects, which is why process digitalization and optimization in the healthcare sector sometimes takes a little longer than in other industries that perhaps need to fulfill fewer requirements.

 

Let’s take a concrete example: Imagine a patient app has been designed to improve the admission process. How do you find out what the hospital staff expects or how the patients are getting along with the user interface after the app was introduced?

Sabine Krause: We have a well-equipped toolkit for tasks like that. With regard to the hospital staff, the first important step is to understand the workflows. On-site observations (known as “shadowing”) provide useful insights. A satisfaction survey using questionnaires can also be helpful in order to see where we stand, so that we can make an improvement visible later on. In-depth interviews are a good way to obtain more detailed insights into the needs and problems that arise in day-to-day hospital life. Here, future users have the opportunity to provide individual feedback and share their expectations for the new solution and the process in question. In the case of the patients, we start with the user tests as early as possible during development. Even small tests using a click prototype provide insights on how well the interaction with the respective system actually works. This way, we can avoid gross errors before we even start programming the application. The prototype is further developed or implemented in programming on the basis of the findings and then revalidated in user tests. 

The people who participate in user tests should largely correspond to the actual end users. Since acute patients are typically not available for participating in tests due to their current situation, we work with people who were in a hospital in the past two years and are therefore familiar with the situation. The participants in the user tests are confronted with typical operating situations. They are asked to imagine a described scenario in which they are to solve a particular task, for example upload a doctor’s report in the app and send it to the hospital. The test subjects are asked to describe their approach and expectations out loud while solving the task (known as “thinking out loud”). Observation can then help to identify difficulties that arise when using the app, for example where the app is not yet structured in the way the users expect it to be, where something is confusing, or where assistance is missing. That’s always very exciting from our point of view and we experience surprises or things we didn't expect time and time again. It’s always worth doing user tests.

How well the application works in practice is then checked by means of a pilot test, i.e. the app is provided for just one specialist field in a hospital, for example. We obtain an insight into the experiences of actual users on the patient and hospital sides through feedback questionnaires or telephone interviews and can readjust things if necessary.

 

Let’s stick with our example. If a hospital decides to purchase a new patient app, what tips would you give the hospital for introducing the new application?

Anna Pietrek: The decision-makers at the hospital should already inquire about the importance the manufacturer attaches to the topic of user experience and user friendliness during the process of selecting a solutions provider. Are there processes that consider the needs of the users in the context of the product development and introduction? If so, what do these processes look like? And if a hospital wants all the details: Invite the manufacturer’s employees who are responsible for UX to a meeting and ask them to demonstrate how they work and present past projects.

 

Ms. Pietrek, Ms. Krause, thank you very much.

 

 

About BEWATEC

BEWATEC ConnectedCare GmbH has a clear vision: To create an interconnected healthcare world for everyone. With its software and hardware solutions, the company occupies a leading position in the area of hospital digitalization. The open platform BEWATEC.ConnectedCare connects patients with doctors and hospitals. Standardized interfaces make a digital exchange of information, the involvement of the patients, process optimization in the hospital, and reducing the workload of hospital staff possible. 160 employees in Germany and China are working on pioneering solutions continuously and with great expertise, creativity, and commitment. They have been making BEWATEC the driver of innovation in the healthcare sector since it was founded in 1995 and continue to do so. Today, the company offers a flexible range of solutions for the digital transformation of hospitals.