One Year in User Research

What we’ve learned

Because we take our mission of helping people make better health care decisions to heart, our user research team prioritizes talking to real people. In order for us to guide our products to better meet users needs, we run live pre-development usability sessions every 3 weeks — which means that over the last year, we’ve talked with over 100 people (and counting) while they worked (and sometimes struggled) with our prototypes and helped us understand their experience. We use their feedback to improve the design of new features, to modify current tools, and to guide the product roadmap. And, while our focus in usability sessions is generally task and feature focused, we always listen for the real-life experiences and expectations of our study participants.

When Maggie and I took some time to look back over what we learned in our first year of sessions talking with a really diverse group of people, we found some clear, unifying themes.

Here are some things that our participants have taught us about their overall experience with health care, health insurance, finding a doctor, and wading through costs for care.

Health Insurance Is Hard

Americans often don’t have the basic knowledge they need to make informed decisions about care (e.g. don’t know what they don’t know) and they also find health plans confusing and complicated. They especially struggle with insurance language (what is co-insurance exactly?), differences between plans and plan types (PPO, ACO, HSA, FSA?), and being fully aware of rules they need to follow (who is in-network? How do I know? How do tiers work?). Users tell us that they value a clean and simple experience but do not expect anything health care or health plan related to be simple.

Selecting a Doctor is like Online Dating

Selecting a doctor for care is more like online dating than online shopping. Word of mouth and trial and error are still how most people select their doctor, but when they go online, they want as much detailed, individual information about potential doctors as possible (e.g. lots of photos, philosophy of care written in their own words, years of experience, areas of focus, etc.) They want to see what the doctor looks like, understand their values, and glimpse their style. They also want to hear from other people “like them” to see how close the doctor is in real life to their profile.

Show AND Tell

Data are useless without guidance, context, and highlighting appropriate associations. It’s tough to easily and quickly make sense of a table of numbers. People struggle to make the story in the data come forward on their own and then understand what action to take. In addition, choices are only useful when there are highly discrete options (50 shades of grey is no help in selecting care options). Too many options with too little difference between them or too many variables are paralyzing.

How we’re Acting on the Data

So, what are we doing with what we have learned from listening to real people? We’re updating our design tenets, the guiding principles that help us keep users’ needs at the heart of our designs. These tenets cover Visual, Interaction, and Content of the application and look like this:

We’re also increasing guidance in our tools. We discovered that while a simple search bar works for Google, it doesn’t for health care. When looking up complex health and cost information, some folks need more clues to help them find what they are looking for. We took user feedback and client input, along with competitive analysis and began working on a Guided Search option to augment our traditional keyword search. This effort has been through multiple rounds of internal review, user testing, client review, and will continue to evolve as we learn how users think about the information they are looking for so we can present it in line with their mental maps.

We are also increasing our contextual decision-making support and calls to action, so it never feels like we are simply presenting numbers that leave our users guessing what they mean and what to do next. And, as always, we continue to listen, design, test, and do it all over again!

User Research at HealthSparq

Alison Greco, Head of User Research

Alison has her doctorate in Clinical Psychology with a focus on Organizational Behavior. She spent 5 years in Health Benefits Consulting and 10 years in Usability, User Research, and Customer Experience Consulting.

Maggie Foree, User Researcher

Maggie has 4 years in Market and User Research experience. She is a professional moderator and is highly skilled in quantitative and qualitative research methods.