The growing importance of UX research in the healthcare industry

By Justin Pytlak | December 15, 2015
The growing importance of UX research in the healthcare industry

With the passing of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, UX research on healthcare products is more important than ever. The Affordable Care Act essentially mandated the modernizing of computer and data systems of Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, 2010, p. 875). The changing scenery in physicians’ offices and hospitals underlines the importance of streamlining the digital interfaces that healthcare employees interact with. With the critical nature of healthcare work and the increased demands on healthcare professionals, it is important now, more than ever, to improve healthcare interfaces. As one individual I interviewed stated, “The interfaces need to be implemented because of the Affordable Care Act, but unfortunately, they’re being thrown together just to satisfy requirements. The [user interfaces] just aren’t very good.”

Study breakdown

We ran a qualitative remote unmoderated usability study on a private radiology web-based portal with five participants who worked in the healthcare industry. Currently, healthcare practitioners schedule and exchange radiology patient information via fax or hand-delivery. This portal changes that by making these exchanges electronic, which expedites the process. The portal helps increase the efficiency of moving patient information from one physician’s office to the next by reducing time and resources spent. Improving on the usability of the interface would improve efficiency even more.

The objectives of the study were to find out:

  • What these healthcare workers liked and disliked about the portal
  • What aspects they would improve
  • If there was any information missing from referral pages
  • What the perceived value of this portal was to them.

We wanted participants to have the mindset that was a new interface being implemented into their workplace so that they could compare it with a current interface they use at work.


The study began to pinpoint areas for improvement that only end users (not designers) would notice. Some participants suggested adding the information of STAT patients directly on the portal login page so that they could be scheduled and taken care of immediately, without having to sift through every referral. This would be especially helpful if there were hundreds of patients to scan. Another simple—yet crucial—idea for improvement was to increase specificity of referral details, as well as increase the ways to contact a patient. Including the physician’s practice name, the name of the study, and multiple ways to contact a patient would streamline the user’s workflow and remove the need to memorize specific practices and procedure information. When asked about their perceived value of the portal, our participants gave it a score of 3.2 on a scale of 1 to 5. Overall, participants felt that the portal was "a great place to keep track of referrals,” especially if any information were to go missing around the office, or if a patient forgot to bring required information to their appointment. On the opposite end, some participants thought the portal felt basic and the interface could use icons to increase understandability of certain tools, as well as some other minor tweaks to the visual design.


This study aimed to put a referral portal under the microscope and determine some best practices in designing a healthcare industry user interface. Since the mandate of electronic databases and patient processing put forth by the Affordable Care Act, these types of interfaces will become more prevalent. There is no reason why we should not be able to design them to help our end user: the healthcare employee.

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About the author(s)
Justin Pytlak

Justin is a native of New York and has a Master's degree in Human Computer Interaction. When he's not conducting research, he enjoys home brewing, a round of golf, and if there's time, coding in Python.