3 one-week sprints
Despite extensive research and considerable efforts for developing targeted therapies, cancer is still one of the leading causes of death worldwide.
In early June, 40,000 cancer clinicians, researchers, and thought leaders convened in Chicago for the largest cancer research conference in the world, the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting. At the same time, our team of four UX designers started working on a project with Medeligo, a Chicago-based company with a mobile product that provides timely oncology-focused research for physicians.
Although I had worked with different healthcare organizations throughout my career, neither I nor my teammates had specialized knowledge of oncology. We sat down with Medeligo’s founding team to learn the essentials of oncology practice, understand outstanding problems, and discuss potential directions.
Medeligo was developed by an experienced neurosurgeon who was frustrated with existing mobile options and had trouble locating relevant neurosurgical information in a timely manner, as commercialized search engines usually yielded financially incentivized results rather than vetted researches. To tackle the problems, Medeligo developed its unique algorithm and used medical search expertise with the help of a professional librarian information specialist.
The current Medeligo users path starts at a splash screen through selecting a subspecialty, toward categorized articles.
However, Medeligo faced big problems such as user acquisition and retention. To assist the client in achieving their goals of helping physicians when researching a new therapy or a rare medical condition, and smoothing out the flow to sell to hospitals and health systems, we dived into the research.
Exploring the landscape of oncology
I started the domain research by consulting trustworthy sources. According to the National Cancer Institute, an estimated 1.7 million new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States in 2018, and more than one-third of the patients will die from the disease.
Cancer has a major impact on society across the world and in the United States.
Fortunately, patient outcomes can be enhanced by the continued involvement of physicians. It is therefore significant for physicians to know the accurate information to treat patients.
In the past, physicians learned of new medical treatments and clinical information from medical textbooks, printed journals, and professional conferences. These sources have become inadequate because of the rapid advancements of healthcare industry these days. The most common methods healthcare professionals use to stay updated in the field of oncology are:
There are currently over 15,000 new medical articles being published every week. It has become very difficult for physicians to stay in front of all this new information.
Also, the daily work schedule of physicians is extremely packed and unpredictable. They are always on-the-go and spend little time in front of a desktop. As a result, they rely more and more on mobile devices to access information.
Understanding the competitors
Although the client claimed that there was no direct competitor as only Medeligo focused on a very niche domain, we found it was a competitive market with four categories of competitors:
Then we analyzed the existing platforms and found some common patterns:
Talking to physicians
To get a more well-rounded perspective on oncology and understand the daily work of physicians, we interviewed Medeligo’s existing users in different phases of their careers. One of them was active users, some were casually familiar with the app, and others were barely used it.
We also talked to diverse subject matter experts who provided a wealth of information for us to understand Medeligo's business model, the ways to organize, structure, and label information, and the actual market needs for specialized medical platforms.
After talking with interviewees about their needs, frustrations, and goals, we created an affinity diagram to identify the behavioral patterns among users and gleaned the following insights.
Unpacking the insights more, we found that there were two main issues in regards to searching for oncology information:
1. Users need a way to quickly access the latest medical information. Sometimes they chose to go to other sources rather than using tools such as Medeligo on a regular basis because they couldn’t always find the research they needed within the timeframe.
2. With the huge amount of medical information, physicians need to store, track and organize digitized research, which would assist them in making informed decisions that improve medical care.
With the search issue in mind, we created an experience map of the existing yet inactive users of Medeligo by combining the pain points that the users had described.
The doctors were often frustrated with the current user flow.
Framing the problem
We initially thought that fixing the information architecture issue and readability of text-heavy screens would solve the major problem, but research results indicated that we should explore further. I believed we not only needed to assist users in quickly locating the most relevant information with the advanced tool, but also provide a curated information management system for users to go back to, as each search result would be different according to Medeligo’s developer.
We then articulated the scenario and problem that encapsulated the above-mentioned concerns:
As the schedule and responsibility of doctors was significantly different from people in other professions, we developed corresponding principles to navigate around the problem statement:
The problem and principles assisted us in matching up our ideas to make sure our design would be in line with user needs moving forward.
I focused on ideating solutions around the major problems I defined, and each of my teammates brought at least one concept to the table from different perspectives, and we tested each concept with potential users respectively.
Concept 1: Sorting and filters
Among all the possible concerns, I believed filtering mattered the most as the users had limited time to sort through information to find the most relevant articles. Since there needed to be a balance between basic search and advanced filtering, I created this concept to meet the diversified needs of users. I pulled inspirations from Zumper’s combination of search and filter, and LinkedIn’s sort by function, as some users wanted to review the latest journals while others prefer to read relevant articles.
What we found:
For search function, the users wanted to see the search history so they could easily explore the topics that were related to their specialties. For the filter, the testers suggested that it was good to sort by date and relevance, but it would also be important to filter by title, author, and journal type. However, I found that users didn’t like the drop-down menu and hidden criteria.
Concept 2: Role-based onboarding
Lacking onboarding let the users start without context or clarity, and reduced the engagement in the long term. For example, most of the users we talked to didn’t know they were able to save articles within Medeligo, so they never used the library function. A role-based onboarding process might enable Medeligo to provide more relevant information.
What we found:
Users would find onboarding useful if it was brief, targeted, and required no personal information. They didn’t want walk-throughs or tutorials at the start as it would be time-consuming even used just for once. Onboarding was therefore secondary comparing with other needs and would not be included in the scope.
Concept 3: Clear information categories
Medeligo used a list of nine different oncology subspecialties (body parts) on the homepage, which created an obvious readability issue. Instead, we focused this solution on reorganizing and consolidating the most commonly used categories based on our interviews.
What we found:
Although the users didn’t like the interface of the current homepage as a list, they did feel the body parts would make the search easier. We realized that a majority of doctors wouldn’t change their specialties throughout their careers, so it would be rare for a lung cancer physician to research brain tumors. This insight led us to set the selected oncology subspecialty as smart default to suggest the latest research. In addition, Medeligo expected to release final subspecialties soon which would also be based on body parts, the current structure was aligned with their information architecture strategy on a path forward.
Concept 4: Highlights and notes
As the doctors had to remain state-of-the-art regarding the scientific principles and the clinical skills, the volume of material was enormous. Based on the user preferences we have collected from the interviews, we created the highlighting and note features that assisted the medical professionals to digest and reorganize the information.
What we found:
Although some testers enjoyed having the options to highlight the contents or type in notes, most of them just wanted to quickly scan information, especially the abstracts. The insight, again, echoed our problem statement to provide digestible research. As for the whole article, they would still print it out if they decided to read it later and write notes on the paper.
Concept 5: Saved articles and Folders
One of the surprising facts from the interviews was the users, especially the inexperienced doctors and nurse, still used binders to categorize printed journals. The cloud-based information management system would allow the users to safely store, retrieve and manage researches that they found useful.
What we found:
Users felt confused about the relationships between saved and my archives, which required further testings. The testers did like action-driven tooltips when using the app that assured our team to implement a series of quick tips as the progressive learning process for the busy physicians.
Overall, users found the filter accelerating the process, the features on the article screen intuitive, and the folders eliminating the need for physical document management.
Before moving forward with our design, we presented Medeligo with our concept testing results and scope to create the prototype. The results were well-received by Medeligo team, except that the client would like to highlight the surgical video function, which we agreed to incorporate into the final prototype.
We used InVision to build a working prototype for usability testing with a new group of testers so the users could interact with the optimized functions. We A/B tested the filter screens, recategorized the result screen, standardized the article page, and enable the users to customize the saved articles.
I observed how users interacted with the prototype, and found out whether the implemented solutions were successful.
Overall, the users found the app to be very usable and fit into their current workflow. We made minor adjustments before handing it off to Medeligo.
Although our time on the project came to an end, we provided Medeligo team with actionable recommendations on next steps. We gave the client detailed short term and long term considerations.
To help the client quickly fix the issues of the current app before launching the brand new version, we closely reviewed the current app and created a long list of inspections based on the heuristic evaluation to suggest best practices within existing frameworks.
Onboarding was one of the earlier features we conceptualized. From our users, we saw potential interest in this feature, yet Medeligo would need to explore further to provide a smart walkthrough in a timely manner. Also, as the users move into a deeper engagement with the information, more article features would move users into the realm of potential habit building including highlighting the key takeaways, adding notes, or other features based on collected user data. Lastly, better labeled images would allow the users to get more accurate information as some of the tumors look identical.
Overall, Medeligo was a very exciting project for me. Although the domain was foreign to me, I did enjoy understanding new areas and talking to users with specialized knowledge. I learned a lot in a short timeframe and made research-backed decisions to assist doctors in making informed decisions that eventually improve medical care.
I found that a very rewarding experience. One of the biggest takeaways from this project was to be aware of technical limitations as early as possible. The developer of Medeligo started to get involved in the middle of our implementation and unveiled front-end, back-end, and external issues that might affect the feasibility of the design which made us kill many unachievable concepts. On the other hand, I continued to grow in my confidence to facilitate my design decisions and incorporate the considerations of the developing team and other possible stakeholders.
Also, it was the first time for me presenting designs to a client with non-design knowledge. I shifted my communication style to visualize the process while still incorporating user needs and business goals.
Working with Medeligo allowed me to understand how I could empower the users through designing a good product, contribute to the community, and potentially improve the world around us.