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In recent years, consumer demand for digital health services has increased. The rise of the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated telemedicine, medical website, and app production as a way to share important information with the public. This has led to the digital experience in healthcare playing an important role in building good patient-doctor relationships. In fact, in 2020, 50% of healthcare consumers agreed that a bad digital experience with a healthcare provider can discourage them from engaging further. To create an excellent
digital health experience there needs to be a focus on User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX) design. Let’s break down what these terms mean, and how important they are in digital health.

UI is centred around the look and feel of a digital product. This is where the visual and interactive components of a website, app, or software are considered with care. Designers focus on the images, buttons, fonts, colours, and more in order to appeal to users. But it’s not just about the looks of the digital product. UI utilises these components as a way to guide users intuitively through the product’s interface. A straightforward and easy-to-grasp UI increases user engagement with the digital product. In other words, if a user can understand the interactive and visual components of your digital product intuitively, then users will take pleasure in interacting with your product. They will willingly engage with it. 

UX on the other hand does not focus on the visual components. Rather it focuses on their effectiveness. UX is applied to optimise a digital product and map how it should be used. The end goal should be a cohesive, pleasurable, and easy-to-use experience between the user and a product. This process doesn’t necessarily involve the interface. UX can include research, user interviews, testing, wire-framing, and prototyping. 

In short, UI is the look and function of the interface, whereas UX is the overall experience. While both are different, and often get mixed up, they go hand in hand to create an effective digital product.

In digital health, both medical professionals and patients can benefit from good UI and UX principles. The design of digital medical products should serve the needs of the users (medical professionals and/or patients) to help them effectively and efficiently. If a digital medical tool’s interface is confusing, then no one will end up using it. Take for example a self-managing medical app aimed at patients with type 2 diabetes, in which the doctor can also track the patient. The patient can input and track their diet, blood sugar, blood pressure, and more, while the doctor can monitor their data, and give further advice. Now, imagine the patient cannot find the button to log their information, it being an indistinguishable icon or hidden somewhere deep between a lot of overwhelming functions. Imagine that they do not get reminders, the app crashes, or other inconveniences we are all too familiar with. The patient will then be discouraged from using the app and will subsequently get annoyed and leave it. Consequently, the doctor won’t be able to track the patient, and won’t have enough information on their state. Good UI and UX principles prevent issues like this from occurring or locate them before a digital product is released to the market. This is a simple example, but it emphasises how important UI and UX principles are in digital healthcare products. 

So which UI/UX principles can improve digital health products and solutions? To name a few simple ones:

  • Take a user-centred design approach and research your target audience

Research your target audience, their day-to-day lives, their likes/dislikes and what they need in a digital tool. Questions such as these are important to ask and revisit throughout the design process. Focus on what patients and healthcare providers need, what is important to them, and start creating your design from there. From here, your design should follow an iterative design pattern, and consult with users through every design stage of the product. By putting the medical professional and/or patient at the forefront of your design, you can avoid making incorrect assumptions about their needs.

  • Create clear, simple, and intuitive layouts

Keep it simple. Make sure your users know where to click and can orientate around the design to locate the information that they need. While some trends and visuals seem enticing, they might not be applicable to your user base. Start off with a simple layout, make sure users can understand the product, and make it pretty from there, but don’t go too crazy.

  • Keep the design consistent and concise

Buttons, images, prompts, etc. should be similar throughout the whole interface. Do not go crazy. The layout, design and colours should be consistent.

  • Consider with care the information you provide

When it comes to providing information, don’t overwhelm users. Cut up difficult text into small, understandable bullet points or paragraphs. Of course, considering the target audience, medical professionals require different information than patients. But on either side, make sure it is not cumbersome for either party to understand what the app is telling them.

Digital health will continue to grow in developing apps, websites, digital health records, chatbots, wearables and more. This is why some of the UI and UX design principles we discussed are important to consider in their development. In order to ensure patients and medical professionals can benefit from digital medical products, we need to design them efficiently and effectively.