Connected medical devices and software help many persons with COPD and their healthcare providers. But how do companies develop these devices so that they truly help patients manage their disease? To find out, we recently interviewed Ellen Su, Chief Product Officer at Wellinks, a company that makes Flyp Nebulizer and other products available to those with chronic respiratory conditions.
As Ellen explains, creating and distributing connected devices for persons with COPD and other forms of chronic respiratory disease involves a large, diverse team. Physicians, respiratory therapists, clinical researchers, health coaches, caregivers, and patients themselves must all work together to provide the best possible experience for patients and professionals who care for them.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
How do you ascertain which design problems in the COPD digital health sector are currently unaddressed?
We spend a lot of time doing user interviews and learning about user flows. With user flows, we ask people to walk through their journey, whether that's a patient, a respiratory therapist, a health coach, etc. We ask about times or experiences where they felt confused, and we also highlight things that really worked for them to identify areas of improvement within the healthcare system. Everything we build should be tied back to improving those experiences and addressing those pain points.
Are these problems related primarily to patient use or do they also include clinical provider concerns?
They include everyone involved in COPD care. This means that we're interviewing caregivers, doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, and insurance payers as well. It's a lot of conversations, and we want to make sure we have a diverse set of experiences from every stakeholder group, which means we're doing a lot of listening. This work is critical for us to make sure that we're building the right things and that we're investing our time up front to understand the user’s experience.
How does Wellinks take into account the systems of diagnosis, treatment decisions, healthcare records, and provider interface in their designs?
This is where things get fun! We’ve created a few advisory groups of people whom we can interview and ask for help in understanding all of these complicated systems. We have a patient advisory group, a health coach advisory group, and a clinical advisory group that help us with understanding the experience from each of these different perspectives. In addition, we rely on industry experts and third-party consultants to learn about clinical provider and B2B customer priorities so we can really get an unbiased view of what people think of our product.
We are also planning to implement more co-design processes where we can invite patients and providers into our design sessions to contribute ideas. We often listen for inspiration during our interviews, and we often ask our users about other software and interfaces that they like to use.
How do your designs address user experience (UX) for both patients and providers?
Our first priority is to adhere to high accessibility standards to ensure that our software, devices, and experiences are accessible to anyone. Accessibility isn’t just a check mark: it’s something that is always a work in progress, and the standards and technology are always evolving.
We also build UX testing into our process. After we do our research and come up with initial designs and mockups, we always conduct further research to make sure that the interface or workflow we have designed makes sense and meets the needs of our users. In addition, we test the wording and terminology that we use in the product’s instructions to make sure that we are communicating properly and that the users know what to expect from our product and service.
Since the Wellinks solution incorporates so many pieces(devices, software, services, and communication between all these parts), we spend a lot of time mapping out the user journey through our platform. You’ll find us building flowcharts in “Whimsical” (our design software) to follow a user through each part of the experience for things like onboarding, goal setting, health coaching calls, etc. We do this for the patient experience, the provider experience, and the health coach experience. By doing this, we are able to find areas that we can streamline or simplify to improve our design.
How does Wellinks design for ease of use to create the best experience for clinicians and patients?
As we serve more users, we can gather data on how quickly or how often users complete certain functions so we can optimize those experiences. In addition, we keep open lines of communication between our product team and any customer or user-facing role so we can ensure feedback gets evaluated by multiple perspectives.
We have many more patients in our advisory group; so we are able to get a larger response and collect more data for our testing and research. For patients, we designed our app to make it simple at first glance for new users, with lots of additional features and data accessible just under the surface for users who want to learn more.
For providers, we often rely on a few partners to be heavily involved in the earlier design stages to make sure we’re on the right track first. For them, we try to make the system unobtrusive and have it fit into existing workflows and concepts as much as possible so they don’t have to think about it and can spend more time focusing on face-to-face time with patients.
How do you test your designs’ impact on both patients and providers?
We use a variety of methods. It depends on the type of design and options we want to understand. If it’s an interface-level change fora feature or concept that is already pretty well understood, we will use surveys and A/B (comparative) testing to understand if there’s a strong preference toward one design or another.
If we are testing out a new concept or workflow that involves more open-ended questions, we will usually conduct interviews where we have users walk through the interface. We can then ask open-ended questions to see whether the interface is intuitive or if users have questions or ideas.
Those are usually great sessions that help us refine our own understanding of the patient and provider experiences. We also try to interview people with a diversity of experiences to make sure we get a lot of viewpoints and capture the full user experience for both patients and providers.