UX in healthcare: How to conduct interviews with patients
The medical industry is starting to recognize the importance of user-centered development. Patient engagement becomes more important. However, it can also bear many challenges when it comes to conducting interviews with participants of special patient groups.
At the beginning of my career as a UX researcher, I got the chance to work on studies in all kinds of sectors – automotive, e-commerce, travel, finance and healthcare. For me personally, healthcare studies were the most exciting. Not only because you need to put a lot of detail into your work and focus on special regulations, but because of the challenges you are facing when interviewing participants of special patient groups, e.g., patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
It is great to see that the medical industry is starting to recognize the importance of user-centered development, as patient engagement research gives a huge plus to creating safe and effective healthcare products.
However, the engagement of patients also bears many challenges when it comes to conducting interviews.
It's all about trust and comfort
Creating more personalized and user-centered experiences in healthcare means that you need to know more about how patients deal and live with their disease. You want to avoid missing out on deep problems, concerns and challenges patients face. However, we cannot assume that patients bring up relevant information or concerns related to their disease by themselves. Why? Because patients might have difficulties sharing intimate thoughts or information about their current state with us as we are strangers to them and usually don’t have a medical background.
In the end it is all about making your participants trust you, even as a non-medical person.
Therefore, we as moderators need to be mindful of patients’ emotional and physical state. Our number one priority should be making participants feel comfortable in our presence during the session. We need to be empathetic and let them know that their physical and mental state is more important to us than the tasks we want to do with them in the interview.
Also, don’t rush! Allow participants to gather their thoughts as needed and avoid trying to get information from them with all the moderation tricks you know. The affect will only be counterproductive and in the end, you might not get any valuable information at all. In my experience, participants who found it difficult to talk about their disease at the beginning of the interview became more open towards the end. After spending an hour with me in a room, participants appeared to be less tense and more comfortable in my presence. So, if you have the feeling that they are not ready to talk with you in detail about their mental and/or physical state, try asking again at the end of the interview.
It could also be helpful for special patient groups if they are allowed to bring their caregiver with them. Caregivers are a people they trust who will provide support and comfort.
“When you show deep empathy towards others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it. That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems.” Stephen Covey, Professor at the Jon M. Huntsman School of business at Utah State University
Be a great listener
We need to listen much more than we talk during the interview. Listen not only to the spoken words but also to participants' body language. It is an essential and important part of every interview (not only with patients). However, I think that we need to pay even closer attention to our counterpart when conducting interviews with patients. Their body language and behavior can give us clues about what they are actually feeling and thinking when talking about a special topic or give us clues regarding things they don’t want to talk about, e.g., severity of pain. Also, be aware of your own body language and facial expressions. Give comforting smiles, show interest in what participants tell you, sit squarely, have an open posture, lean forward, make eye contact and relax.
It is essential that you make yourself familiar with the disease and its symptoms and specifications beforehand. Are there any special needs? What possible situations can occur during the interview?
Conducting research on patients without reviewing literature beforehand is not only unprofessional but often considered unethical. You need to know about the different effects a disease can have on a person in order to act accordingly and prepare your session guides, questionnaires, etc.
Knowledge about their special needs can also contribute to their comfort and can minimize risks for patients. For example, think about their special needs when selecting the test location, e.g., do they sit in a wheelchair? Try to find a location that is barrier-free. Do they have a walking aid? Make sure no cables from cameras are lying around in the interview room.
Empathetic communication and knowledge about the patient group can lead to even better outcomes and deeper results. In the end, it is all about building up trust:
Understand that it takes time for participants to build up trust and tell you about problems and needs
- Be empathetic and watch your body language
- If possible, include caregivers
- Be a great listener
- Be prepared – inform yourself about the disease and its effects
Working as UX experts in the health industry, we need to take it even more seriously than anything else. We need to focus on small things and put as much detail in our work as possible. After all, we are talking about a person’s health.