A couple weeks ago, Health 2.0 NYC hosted a “Patient Empowerment & Connectivity” Meetup event at Epion Health. Part of the evening included a keynote delivered by Daniella Koren, founder & CEO of ARCHES Technology, “Bridging the gaps between providers and patients.” Koren has over 15 years of experience in the field of patient relationship marketing, including immense hands-on patient research within healthcare and pharmaceuticals. In her keynote, she divulged compelling anecdotes and stunning statistical findings uncovered from hundreds of patient interviews and studies. In healthcare technology, many of us don’t have many opportunities to personally conduct such research, given the private nature of patient care. So, I thought I’d share what Koren identified as the seven patient insights that the healthcare technology industry needs to follow (but isn’t).
1) Show the real pictures.
Diseases are not glamorous, and the patients know that best. Koren’s research has solidified the kind of criticism some colleagues and I often make when it comes to cheesy, posed stock photography images so commonly used for pharma sites. The lack of realism makes patients feel isolated from the brand, or even belittled by hiding the true nature of the condition. Resounding patient feedback called for not only focusing on patient imagery, but exposing real symptoms, conditions and environments…even the ugly stuff. Patients are just as sick of seeing the classic smiling-patient-with-nurse’s-hand-on-shoulder-and-forced-multiethnic-representation photos as designers are sick of having to use them.
2) Don’t generalize.
Generalizations about our audiences can easily creep up and affect our product decisions. Especially in an agency role where we’re further isolated from the patients, assumptions and broad statements can hastily guide a product’s pathway or a content piece’s message in the wrong direction. Patients of a common condition may have very diverse problems, needs, personalities, capabilities and tastes. This is where user personas – based on the synthesis of real research – can help us zone in on specific audience types. It’s of course not practical to create a custom feature set and content strategy for multitudes of different users, but it’s wise to determine the most prominent few segments that can be tailored to.
3) “White coat syndrome” is real.
As you’ve likely experienced yourself, the sterile environment of hospitals and clinics does not produce the warm and fuzzy comfort to make patients feel relaxed. In the healthcare world, “white coat syndrome” is a legitimate problem – when a patient’s anxiety induced by the situational environment causes increased blood pressure, preventing the HCP from attainting an accurate measurement. But there is another aspect of white coat syndrome that opens a huge opportunity in healthcare technology. According to Koren, the white coat syndrome also prevents patients from accurately explaining their health problems to the HCP. Patients who know exactly what’s wrong and how severely it affects them will suddenly forget or downplay the conditions when reporting it in the doctor’s office. We should innovate tools that empower patients by equipping them with conversation facilitators and helping them articulate their problems, improvements, concerns and needs.
4) Don’t talk down to patients.
It might seem like the “user friendly” approach to dumb down medical language in content. However, Koren emphasizes how the target audience for a medical condition are the ones with an above-average health literacy level, since they are the ones seriously dealing with it and therefore consuming more information of that nature. This is especially true with chronic or terminal illnesses. By dumbing-down the language, a brand patronizes their audience instead of connecting with them. Patients are turned off by the softening, the fluff, and the exclusion of educational information. At the same time, too much advanced medical jargon is not helpful either. Koren recommends an absolute minimal 12th-grade reading level for such language, and encourages market testing to help find the right balance.
5) Reconsider the “community support” push.
In competitor analyses of different pharmaceutical brands and disease management groups, we’ve been seeing a growing trend of community support groups to connect patients with other patients. However, this strategy does not always resonate with the audience: when offered this kind of opportunity from pharmaceutical brands in large-scale patient studies, interest was extremely underwhelming. It’s just not necessarily what patients are looking for from their treatment providers. Instead, Koren cites that patients are seeking educational materials, financial assistance, and management tools.
6) Careful about interpretations of blame.
People are sensitive about health and adherence. It’s personal, and it can be scary. Content design can mistakenly make patients feel blamed for their health challenges. This happens when there’s too much focus on what the patient isn’t doing, should be doing, or is doing wrong. Personal market research methods are probably the best way to find the right balance.
7) Respect the emotional needs, too.
When thinking about feature and content requirements, it’s common to plan the pieces in a very literal manner – especially as outsiders with business goals to meet. Koren’s interviews unveiled a great need for making patients feel like their feelings are respectfully being taken into account, too. While patients appreciate a caregiver’s devotion to covering the demanding logistics of picking up medications, arranging appointments, doing laundry, preparing meals, etc., oftentimes it’s really just some conversation or a simple “How are you feeling?” that’s needed. Similarly, a disease management app might cover the essential step-by-step tracking process needed to record one’s data, but neglect to account for the emotional impact made throughout that process. This is where user personas and user journey mapping really come into play. Instead of just mapping a diagram of how a task is technically carried out in a digital experience, mapping the human experience surrounding that task can help prevent us from designing hurtful situations and help us identify opportunities to soften a digital experience with more humanistic elements.
Overall, Koren emphasized trust and user research. There cannot be connection without understanding. This healthcare technology – design with empathy!