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The Challenges of Designing an App to Communicate Health Information

Doctors spend their whole careers honing how they communicate health information (e.g. disease risk, test results, recommended actions) to their patients. These communication skills are critical to providing a high quality healthcare experience. (Studies have shown that doctor-patient communication breakdowns are a dominant cause of malpractice claims*.)

In order to achieve our mission of making healthcare scalable and accessible, we have to design for the scenario that our app serves in place of a human doctor in some appropriate situations. And in order to deliver an excellent healthcare experience, we need to create an app interface that communicates health information well, kind of how a doctor might.

This is a big challenge as there are no well-established design guidelines or best practice for this. Here are some of the key issues we are tackling at babylon as we design our app to deliver health information well:

  • Resolving questions

In many scenarios, patients have questions and doubts in response to health information. In human-human interaction, it’s relatively easy to detect whether the other party has understood and accepts a piece of information by seeing their body language and how they speak. In a traditional consultation, a doctor can detect this and proactively try to repair the issue, iteratively, until the patient appears satisfied. It is extremely difficult to give an app these dynamic capabilities in an app-patient interaction.

At babylon, we do a lot of rigorous research before and after launches to maintain and develop a taxonomy of questions and concerns users might have around different types of health information. We then integrate the right kinds of information at the right time into the user journey to proactively reassure and resolve them.

  • Delivering distressing information with sensitivity

Human doctors are usually highly tuned to the individual patient’s personality and mood, and the nature of the message they are trying to deliver. They can deliver it in the right way. A distressing message on health should be communicated totally differently to a positive one.

In our interface, we know multiple design guidelines around presentation of information are needed depending on the user, user journey, and nature of information to-be-communicated. We have been learning the best ways to communicate information without creating unnecessarily alarm by working closely with our users and our in-house doctors. This is especially important as we offer an improved user experience over Googling symptoms, which often leads to unnecessarily distressing outcomes.

  • Establishing credibility

Information delivered by a human doctor is, typically, automatically more credible in the eyes of users than the same information in an app. Internally at babylon, we believe completely in the rigour with which we build our products and can trust in the information delivered. All our products are heavily supervised by doctors and regulated by medical authorities. However, that doesn’t automatically mean users buy into the credibility of our product and the information it offers.

We are continuously learning about the best ways to build trust in our product. For example: Is the solution to expose how our system works to the end user? Given the complexity of the machine learning model that powers our app, what’s the best way to do this? Is the solution exposing the deep involvement of doctors and medical regulators in all we do?

These themes just skim the surface of our ongoing work unpacking and understanding how to create an app that provides an excellent healthcare experience. More Medium articles on this to come, so watch this space.

It’s extremely challenging but rewarding to be working at the forefront of developing design guidelines and best practice in health-tech. If this kind of research and design work is meaningful to you, get in touch or apply for one of our open roles! We’d love to hear from you.

Thanks so much to my stellar colleagues Adrien Lassalmonie and Adrisketchfor helping me edit and evolve this post! You rock.

*e.g. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1201002/