UX and healthcare - a new age

by Dr Gyles Morrison on 5 October 2018

Health is a human right. Yet around 3.8 billion people lack access to basic health care.

The fact that there are 5 billion smartphone owners helps explain why digital health companies are using telehealth and symptom checker software so that the disadvantaged can still access great healthcare. They may have a smartphone, but do they have access to data?

There is also software developed or procured for clinicians in expensive healthcare institutions. But software being costly does not mean that it is good. Many clinicians are less than satisfied with the software they use at work. Perhaps that money could have been used differently?

Literally trillions of pounds is spent on healthcare across the world without the world's healthcare problems being solved. Just throwing money at the problem won't solve it.

Understanding the problem will.

Getting into UX in healthcare was down to the fact that there were too many problems that I simply could not solve as a doctor.

Before I started my career in digital health in 2014, I worked as a doctor for three years. Getting into UX in healthcare was down to the fact that there were too many problems that I simply could not solve as a doctor. I felt part of the problem rather than the solution to improving patient care as I did not have the power to improve anything.

This all began to change when I started working as a designer in digital health. I started to learn skills and tools that could radically improve the experiences people have with healthcare technology and services, or healthcare user experience (UX) for short.

These skills include research, and design to create the right solutions to the right problems.

There are many instances where healthcare UX has a deficit in one of three areas:

• Usability
• Accessibility
• Pleasure.


Usability is about the ease of use and learnability of something that has been designed. For example, regardless of what country you are in, the power button to turn on a TV should be obvious. You should not need a manual to use your mobile phone.

In healthcare however, clinicians are often forced to spend hours if not days in formal training to use software in the workplace. Despite the effort, still they are left confused even when completing simple tasks. I still remember occasions from my own medical career when I was reading information from the Electronic Patient Record but for the wrong patient. Mistakes like this shouldn't be possible, and they wouldn't be if the health tech and services were designed better.


If a technology or service is accessible, it means that anyone should be able to use it despite any real or perceived disabilities, handicaps or obstacles. TVs and mobile phones are designed so that the blind and the deaf can use them and use them well. But there are times when healthcare technology uses colours to signify importance without considering that one who is colour blind may miss the significant message because they cannot see the different colour. Elderly people may be willing to use mobile technology to improve their health, but if they do not own the device or have a wi-fi connection at home, the technology literally becomes useless.

There are very few instances where fun is considered important in healthcare, often at the detriment of healthcare technology and services.


Pleasure is the final area and relates to the joy and happiness one has when interacting with a technology or service. It positively correlates with trust, loyalty and repeated use.

Despite it being heavily considered in the fashion, entertainment and the food industry, to name but a few, it's very rare in healthcare. When is the last time you heard clinicians in hospital say how fun it was using their pager? Have you ever considered it fun waiting to see your GP in the waiting area? What about in A&E? At least on the underground there are posters lining the walls which change regularly. Lifts have (often awful) music playing. Planes have in-flight entertainment. There are very few instances where fun is considered important in healthcare, often at the detriment of healthcare technology and services.

The bottom line

We should strive to improve usability, accessibility and pleasure in healthcare so people can have better experiences, as this will ultimately lead to better health outcomes. Healthcare technology and services will be used more efficiently, by more people and more regularly as a result. To do this, it is important to keep the needs, wants and limitations of people when designing these solutions.

This is what is meant by user or human-centred design. If we really know what people want to do, why and what can affect success, we will make completing these tasks more likely and possibly more fun.

Want to learn more about UX and healthcare?

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