Think about the last time you interacted with your healthcare system —  do you remember how the experience made you feel? Was it positive? Negative? Pretty neutral?

Digital technology has enormous potential to improve care experiences and alleviate stress on our increasingly burdened healthcare system.1

Given this potential, digital technology is becoming increasingly ubiquitous across healthcare systems. The race to implement digital technology is on! But while we are in this race, it's important to ask:

  • Are all these new digital technologies useful and usable? 
  • Are the technology designers taking enough time to design solutions thoughtfully and with intention?

Functionality, usability, and user experience, oh my

User experience designers often use the term functionality to refer to whether a technology does what it is intended to do, and we use the term usability to refer to how easy the technology is to learn and use. The functionality and usability of a thing work together to create the user experience. User experience is really about how people feel when they interact with a product.

functionality + usability = user experience

Creating stellar user experiences requires consideration of more than just functionality and usability, though. It also requires careful consideration of one more important thing: context of use. For example, how does the technology fit in with established processes or work with existing technology? Is the location where the technology will be used quiet, busy, noisy? Will users of the technology be focused on one task they are looking to accomplish or will they be multi-tasking, focussing on a million things at once?

[context of use (functionality + usability)] = stellar user experiences 

In our day-to-day lives, negative user experiences with digital technology can result in frustration, wasted time, and perhaps, wasted money. Positive user experiences, on the other hand, can drive loyalty and result in frictionless achievement of goals. 

Why does user experience matter in healthcare? 

Digital technology in healthcare sometimes prioritizes functionality over usability. However, poor usability in a healthcare context can result in more than just frustration and wasted time. Poor usability can endanger patients and impede performance of healthcare professionals.2

Healthcare professionals and people working in or engaging with the healthcare system often don't have a choice about interacting with digital technology such as electronic health systems or patient portals. Users of digital healthcare technology often put up with poor usability and performance challenges because it's the only way to accomplish the things they want to accomplish. Not ideal. 

So, what can be done differently?

Thoughtful design approach 

Issues resulting from poor user experience are preventable. How? Through implementation of digital technology that has been developed with what we call a 'thoughtful design approach'. Thoughtful design takes into consideration not only how functional and usable a digital technology is, but also how the technology fits into the broader context of the care experience.

Thoughtful-UX-DesignDevelopers of digital technology who embrace a thoughtful design approach engage users of various roles— including healthcare professionals, clinical staff, and patients—and seek to understand user behaviour, context, clinical workflow, and healthcare goals. We also consider the needs of all users, including people with differing needs and abilities and people with varying levels of familiarity with and access to technology. 

Our background at Emmetros is in developing digital technology for individuals with cognitive impairments, and working with them to understand their needs. What did we learn from this work? Well, we discovered that designing for the unique needs of people with cognitive impairments makes our platform easier to use for many other users as well. Designing for people with cognitive impairments encouraged us to consider what users really and truly need from digital technology and to reduce “noise” wherever possible in both our feature set and visual design. The learnings from our early experience working with people with cognitive impairments are still evident in our approach to design today.

Our approach to design

Design means so much more to our team than aesthetics and fancy features. We strive to be intentional and thoughtful, taking time to consider the impact of design decisions on patients, healthcare professionals, and others in a circle of care. We seek to build trust with all users. 

We work closely with patients, healthcare professionals, and healthcare experts to understand their perspectives, workflows, goals, and needs. When we identify a gap between user needs and the functionality in our platform, we conduct extensive research to determine how best to fill the gap, we consider our constraints, and then we craft a vision for the best possible solution. When we design solutions, our goal is to meet user needs in the most effective, streamlined, and helpful way possible.


We don’t just ask - How should this solution work?

We also ask - Why are we designing this solution? Is this solution needed or useful? 

What problems are we looking to solve? For whom? 

How well does this solution fit into existing workflows or processes? How can we make it fit more seamlessly?  

How usable is this solution? How can we make it easier to use for more people?  

Why thoughtful design matters

We believe that taking a thoughtful design approach really makes a difference in the experience people have when interacting with our platform, and improves patient outcomes. We want people to feel empowered and excited about their experience. We want our platform to add real value for not only the healthcare system but also for organizations and patients that use it. We want our users to achieve their goals. Efficiently. Effortlessly.
When people—particularly patients—feel empowered using a platform, they are more likely to adopt and use it.3 Investing in thoughtful design pays off. Why? Because how people feel when they use a platform matters. If users feel frustrated with a platform, they are less likely to use it and potential benefits associated with using digital technology to improve care experiences and reduce organizational stress will be “left on the table”. 

On the other hand, if people have positive experiences with digital technology—such as a patient engagement platform—and continue to use it, healthcare organizations can achieve the following benefits4

  •  Improve patient experience satisfaction
  •  Improve health outcomes for patients
  •  Reduce costs
  •  Increase operational efficiency
  •  Enhance referrals

Our mission is to help organizations provide exceptional care experiences. This mission is reflected in every product and design decision we make. We want to have a positive impact on people’s lives; we also want people to love using our platform - SparxConnect. It’s that simple! We take time to understand users and context of use so we can design experiences that help you build trust and provide the best care possible. 

If you would like to see our approach to thoughtful design in action in our SparxConnect platform, just reach out here.

About the author: Jennifer Krul


Jennifer is the Director of User Experience (UX) at Emmetros, the creators of SparxConnect. Jen brings more than 20 years of experience in content strategy and UX, including 15 at Blackberry where she worked to set corporate-wide standards for content and user interfaces. She is a frequent speaker at leading user experience, accessibility, and gerontechnology conferences and events across North America, where she encourages designers and developers to take an inclusive approach to their work. 

Acknowledgment: A special thank you to Madalayne Rockarts, one of our talented and thoughtful product designers, for her help with researching and developing content. 

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