Designing Products for Public Healthcare

2 minute read along with visual samples


I've been designing dental healthcare products for several years.

In this piece I'll briefly explain 3 important aspects when designing for dental healthcare in a public setting (i.e. not small, private practices) and the role I played within each. These aspects could and have been applied to many modern digital products.

Here they are below:

  • 1. Understand your users
  • 2. Understand your users constraints
  • 3. Test on actual users

You can always skip down to the visuals here if you don't wish to read.

1. Understand your users


Understanding more about your users and their workflow has proven to be critical part of creating a good UX. Knowing what each type of user is aiming to achieve by using your product, what obstacles they face and the various pain points they have in completing their jobs provides a solid and more unified approach towards meeting their needs.

Without knowing who they are and what they do, you're playing guessing games with how good the eventual outcome will be.

clinician journey map

Once I had enough user information, I was able to create journey maps for each user type like this one above. This is the user journey for a clinician - this would differ for other user types such as dental assistants, students and system administrators.

My Role

In order to understand our users more, I implemented and partook/have been partaking in the following activities:

  • Interviews: When time permitted, a business analyst and I carried out user interviews during site visits in order to get a better understanding of their workflows.
  • Focus groups: Sometimes we conducted focus groups when availability of users was limited.
  • Journey mapping: I created these like the one shown above. Journey maps are great for sharing with the wider team so that there's a collective understanding of where we as a team can impact on the user's experience.
  • Empathy mapping: This is a new research aspect to us brought in by the product manager. It involved a group of us mapping out what users say, do, think and feel - furthering our empathy and focus on the end user.

2. Understand your users constraints


In addition to understanding your users workflow and pain points amongst other things, it's important to know the environment in which they operate in - especially when it comes to public healthcare.

Unlike some of the spacious, ergonomically designed office layouts you see in some large tech firms and others, users based in public health environments don't have the same luxuries. Therefore its important to be concious of this when designing for public healthcare

Below is an example of of such an environment..

dental clinic environment

Here's a site photo I took of a typical environment - the computer area is highlighted in pink. As you can see its not the most comfortable area! Ensuring our new application worked well on a tablet device (responsive web app) was very important in order to provide our users with a more ergonomically pleasing way of viewing and updating patient information.

My Role

My role in this involved the following:

  • Onsite visits: Initially I was brought on site visits to get a general feel for user constraints. Later I organised visits for the wider product team. This enabled them to see first hand where their software would be used and the problems users face which resulted in deeper user empathy across the team. I issued team members with a POEMS template which provided a consistency in terms of insight recorded.

3. Test on actual users


Testing on actual users is a very important part of the process. There's a litany of different user testing tools available online which I won't get into - the tool here is not what's important. What mattered/matters is that your getting feedback from actual end users - not someone off the street, not even clients - unless they are end users themselves.

In advance of conducting any tests, I'd usually work with the product manager to determine what we were looking to get out of such tests - usability, look and feel, AB tests to see which design is better etc.

Tests were largely made for exploratory purposes and not just validation. In my experience, tests often helped to identify unforeseen issues and insights from the end user. For the most part, our testing was done through Invision prototypes but also with paper prototypes during the sessions. Sometimes with static code if it made sense to do so. Our sessions were always moderated - unmoderated tests are great in theory but difficult in practice - we learned the hard way on this.

before and after a design

Above are extracts from low fidelity Invision prototypes user testing on this occasion dramatically altered the layout of our design for this specific product.

My Role

My role in this involved the following:

  • User testing preparation: This involved defining what we wished to test, preparing relevant prototypes and informing users in advance of what we were planning to do.
  • Remote and onsite user tests: A lot of our clients are outside of Ireland. To date, I've done more remote user tests than onsite.
  • Findings and information gathering sessions: Following these sessions (typically with about 5 users) we'd gather our findings, identify trends and discuss which items would have a high/low impact on user experience.

High Fidelity Examples

Below you'll find some high fidelity examples of finished products

clinical log screen

The purpose of this screen is to provide clinicians and dental assistants with an overview of activities involved with the patient "Maria Thornton". Multiple clinicains and assistants access the same patient records - this allows them to see any previous treatments and such that were done on the patient, thus enabling safer treatments.

analytics screen

Users of this screen would mainly be hospital managers who are less concerned about specific patient details and want a general overview of how their hospital/s are performing, thus enabling them to make more informed procurement and resourcing decisions.

ortho screen

This came from a pilot project we were asked to do once. Orthodontic specialists wanted to be able to show patients how braces might appear on their teeth post treatment. I used Blender 3D to make the braces which overlayed the 3D model of teeth.

home screen

When healthcare professionals and IT staff login, they are presented with this home screen. It allows clinicians to quickly access specific patient records but also caters for the needs of other user types such as administrative staff members.

"I have just started using the new Salud Dental EPR in my hospital and it’s a pleasure to find it is intuitive and well-designed. It is easy to navigate and you can quickly see the important clinical details that is so important to ensure good patient care."

Alastair Spears, Consultant in Restorative Dentistry, Leeds Dental Institute, UK