The Growing Importance of UX in Healthcare

August 2, 2016

It was recently reported in The Straits Times that housewife, Karen Koh, experienced a series of errors in her dealings with Choa Chu Kang Polytechnic, ranging from missed blood tests, missing forms, which eventually culminated in her getting the wrong vaccine. Thankfully, the incident did not result in any adverse side effects. But it brought us to question, “What went wrong, and where?”
UX (user experience) in healthcare has been gaining more attention over the past few years, and for good reason. Healthcare is a sector where poor usability and UX isn’t just an irritation, it can lead to critical medical errors and traumatic outcomes. Madam Koh’s polyclinic experience could have easily taken a turn for the worse if say, drug allergies were not checked. Or in Toi’s experience, miscommunication almost led him to experiencing wrong and painful procedures.
This problem persists in many sectors of healthcare, from administration - where an ebola patient was accidentally sent home, to hospital health care processes - where a cancer patient succumbed to toxicity and dehydration. These mistakes were committed possibly due to poorly designed user interfaces. Medical errors have, in fact, been posited to be the the third leading cause of death in the United States.
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Diagnosing the Issue


We wouldn’t go so far to say that better UX would solve all these issues; healthcare is a highly specialised area and there are too many stakeholders and external factors involved for bad UX to be the sole cause of the problem. However, we strongly believe that a thorough understanding of the users involved would play a major role in better understanding the problems at hand and identifying potential solutions. After working with clients from the National Health Group (NHG), Thomson Medical Centre (TMC) and Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH), we learned that usability is only a small part of the overall problem. While not conclusive, we’ve listed some general observations here.

  1. The amount of software involved in hospital administration is massive. Administration of the thousands of patients that come in and out every day is no mean feat. The main caveat here is that cross channel integration and support is not as open, leading to possible limits on access of information. An additional side effect is the time taken for training and onboarding.
  2. Related to the above, Doctors and Nurses are laden with additional responsibilities which requires them to manage different accounts and passwords for different platforms, and submitting reports in triplicate (across three different systems). Given their extremely packed schedules, this presents a major obstacle in their work efficiency.
  3. Different departments/programs have different processes, creating multiple obstacles towards implementing any new hospital wide system. Different departments have different needs, which may vary widely from across the departments.
  4. Access control and account verification is required, but the complex organisational structure poses issues with integration. For example, NHG uses the Active Directory Login (ADID) system to verify its doctors and nurses, but there are third party users not in the NHG system with no ADID.
  5. There is a mix between stakeholders who are all for digitisation and tech and those who are not willing to adopt it. Unless an executive decision is made, new systems must be able to cater to these two camps.
  6. Doctors having bad handwriting is purely a myth.
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Prescription


Our healthcare practitioners are on the frontlines every day, making sure that those in need receive proper treatment and care. They work long shifts every day, and literally hold our lives in their hands. There is definitely a need to improve their work experience, even more so when it directly affects us - the end consumers. While not an easy task considering the scale of the entire operation, we can and should start with a strong understanding of the different stakeholders, identifying problems and setting priorities from there. At the same time, more thought needs to be put into creating a strong and integrated digital strategy for the long term, one that is flexible enough to meet the growing and changing needs of both patients and care providers.

Author’s Note:

Big shout out to all healthcare providers this Nurses Day!

From all of us at 2359 Media, thank you so much for your service.

We are conducting a study on the problems facing Healthcare providers in Singapore. If you have any observations, suggestions or anecdotes to share, drop us a line here!