UX in Healthcare: 4 Best Practices for Engaging Patients

In good times and bad, healthcare is deeply ingrained in our lives. From the beginning to the end, our providers monitor our growth, treat our illnesses and injuries, and keep us as healthy as possible.

But healthcare organizations can no longer take that provider-patient dynamic for granted. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, more patients than ever distrust the healthcare system. The healthcare industry is also working to recover from the $206.2 billion hit it took in 2020, driven largely by forced delays in preventative care and elective surgeries.

As the healthcare sector finds its footing post-COVID, providers have a tremendous opportunity to build stronger patient relationships than ever before. In 2022, 83% of healthcare consumers said they wanted to make their health and wellness a priority again, while another 37% said they wanted to be more engaged with their healthcare. So where should providers start? With a laser focus on user experience (UX).

As telehealth and retail disrupters like CVS and Amazon gain momentum, it’s easier than ever for patients to get a flu shot or a test for strep throat – a convenience that patients love. These healthcare disruptors also have a leg up in the virtual world, since they’re powered by the modern digital platforms that patients have come to expect.

To find a way forward, traditional healthcare organizations need to focus on creating a strong UX and digital presence that can both compete with disruptors and satisfy the regulatory requirements unique to healthcare (we’re looking at you, HIPAA).

Why Your Patients Expect Better UX

Once upon a time, patients believed that doctors knew best. They went to the healthcare provider down the street and trusted that the provider had the expertise to resolve their health woes.

In 2023, patients are informed consumers. 60% of patients research online before choosing a provider, many of whom consult the healthcare organization’s website. If this isn’t reason enough to revamp your digital footprint, 40% of patients also say they prefer to book appointments online.

Together, these statistics illustrate a growing demand among patients for more robust, patient-friendly digital experiences. The issue is that this is exactly what healthcare organizations have struggled to do for years. At Oomph, some of the most common challenges we see among healthcare brands include:

  • Exceptionally fragmented platforms and digital presence
  • Siloed back-end systems that make it difficult to map and track patient health information (PHI)
  • Complex organizational structures that inhibit quick innovation

Yet there are exciting examples of innovation across the industry, too. Forward-thinkers like the Cleveland Clinic are proof that healthcare UX can and should be innovative — largely because better digital capabilities enhance the patient experience, fueling stronger relationships that benefit providers and the patients they serve.

Our healthcare team at Oomph works with providers of all sizes to uncover digital solutions that make sense for their size and structure, budget, and patient needs. Here, Oomph UI Designer Alyssa Varsanyi shares best practices they’ve developed in partnership with our healthcare clients.

Our 4 Healthcare UX Best Practices

1. Be Accessible and Inclusive

Accessibility is non-negotiable for any digital experience. It’s even more important for provider sites, which are likely serving people with a wide range of conditions — all of whom need and deserve complete and immediate access to healthcare.

To create a healthcare UX accessible to all, healthcare organizations should:

2. Create a Safe Space

In healthcare, protecting patient data is table stakes. To create a safe space, you have to think not just about patient confidentiality but also about building trust. A thoughtful digital environment with inclusive language can go a long way to helping patients feel seen, heard, and cared for.

Websites like Cedars-Sinai are a great example of how websites can be built around trust. Their platform exemplifies how language can be the foundation for a credible site, especially when paired with supportive modules like sources and testimonials.

To take the same approach to your site:

  • Communicate progress: Patients want to know where they stand. Find ways to reflect the status of their care, whether that’s upcoming appointments or prescriptions in need of renewal.
  • Follow conventions: Your patients aren’t visiting your site to learn something new. Keep consistent with healthcare standards and terminology so patients can easily recognize different tools and features.
  • Prevent errors: Mistakes happen. Patients enter their birth date incorrectly or accidentally click the “Schedule” button before they’re ready. The best healthcare platforms both eliminate conditions that can lead to errors and add preventative steps, like prompting the patient to confirm their selection.
  • Offer solutions: If and when errors occur, explain them in plain language and with a visual treatment so the patient can understand how to fix them without having to call customer support.

3. Make Navigation Easy

Many patients come to healthcare systems with an immediate need — a parent needs to find an open appointment NOW for their child’s pre-season sports physical, or a cooking enthusiast needs to locate an urgent care on a Sunday to patch up the new chopping-related cut on their hand.

In either scenario — and countless others that people face daily — it’s critical that patients can easily find the right information at the right time and in the right way.

To make this a reality, healthcare organizations should strive to:

  • Consider specific users: How do they speak? What imagery resonates with them? Speaking your patients’ language will help patients move through your platforms more intuitively.
  • Prioritize visibility: Patients shouldn’t have to remember where it was that they could schedule an appointment or view their records. Make important elements and actions easily and frequently accessible.
  • Mirror real-world conditions: No one wants to get lost down a digital hallway. Make it simple for patients to find what they need – like bill payment – then easily return to where they started.

As technical as these tactics are, don’t forget to show empathy, too. It is possible to show compassion online, like how Stanford Health poses the question, “What can we help you find?” Emotional asks like this can illustrate an organization’s genuine desire to be helpful to their patients.

4. Build Responsive Experiences

Healthcare needs don’t wait until patients are sitting in front of their computers. Think about an adult child peeking over their senior parent’s shoulder while they search for a specialist, or a new parent scrolling through their phone at midnight while cradling their sick baby.

Now imagine those people frantically pinching at the screen so they can read the entire text block or find the right button. Stressful, right?

Patients should be able to seamlessly access healthcare anytime anywhere, which means designs must be responsive. Keep in mind:

  • Device types: Designs need to render and be easy to use on all screen sizes.
  • Clean designs: Focus on the most need-to-know information so the design and content don’t distract from the actions and features your patients care about. This also makes your platform more accessible on smaller screens.

What does that look like in practice? Consider the Summit Health website. Its simple navigation makes it easy for patients to find what they’re looking for, while the responsive design enables patients to engage on the go.

Healthcare UX Is a Journey, Not a Destination

At Oomph, we’ve seen firsthand how these healthcare UX best practices transformed the patient experience of our many healthcare clients. Even still, it’s important to note that UX isn’t one-size-fits-all. A national network of hospitals may need a very different digital patient experience than an owner-operated group of general practice clinics.

So how do you start building a UX that works for you and your patients? Research and testing.

UX audits, user research, and usability testing are all keys to the lock that is an effective UX strategy. By identifying what’s working and what’s not, what your patients want and what they don’t, you can put your organization on an evidence-based path to world-class UX.

Interested in exploring ways to improve UX for your own patients? We’re here to help.

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More about this author

Lauren Capizzo

Account Director, Health & Wellness

Having spent the last 15 years working in health care quality and digital product solutions, I understand the challenges of introducing new systems into organizations large and small. I also believe that having a well designed, customer-focused digital presence is no longer a novelty for companies in the health and wellness space — it's a necessity.

As a collaborative, creative problem solver, I love helping clients build digital solutions with the greatest possible impact. The key is to create experiences that are laser-focused on your customers’ needs. That really hit home for me during the pandemic, when I led a team to build an award-winning digital health solution that remotely connected patients with their care teams.

Discovering best-in-class solutions across industries gives me inspiration. Working with talented, committed people towards a shared purpose makes me feel at home here at Oomph.

When I’m not at work, you might find me traveling with my husband and kids, or trying out new recipes on friends and family. Once in a while, you might even find me onstage — I love improv and karaoke!