eHealth app: designing oncology apps from scratch
1 Sep 2017
Designing a new application in oncology requires researching the needs of potential users - real patients. We present the process of discovery we undertook to gather information and create a new digital tool.
The number of cancer patients is increasing every year. In 2010, there were approximately 140,500 cancer patients in Poland. They are patients who are going through one of the most difficult challenges that a human can face. These people, regardless of the type of cancer diagnosed, face enormous emotional, mental, and physical difficulties. My task at The Story was to think about these challenges and how we can help patients face up to these challenges.
Patient applications. Step one: How?
The task I faced was intimidating. I needed to understand someone that I have few points of contact with. As a designer, I was deprived of the ability to relate the project to myself. Under these conditions, I had to know:
- What does the process of oncological therapy look like?
- How do patients gain knowledge about the disease?
- How do patients know how to proceed in therapy?
- What structural problems do cancer patients face?
- I could use experience in conducting "mining" or "exploration" workshops. These are meetings during which I gain knowledge about the patient, business or potential users.
Why is it worth creating projects for people fighting illness?
Is it really worth designing digital products for cancer patients? There are many arguments against. First of all, cancer patients are mostly elderly, between 60-80 years of age. This is not always the most enthusiastic demographic at embracing digital solutions.
Secondly, can sick people really expect help from the application? Especially when they are facing such a huge challenge? How can the application help cancer patients? I asked myself these questions, which only intensified the desire to consult a professional that could supplement my knowledge gaps.
Cooperation in examining the needs of patients with the Onkocafe Foundation
The composition of exploration workshop participants is a key success factor for this meeting. To get the right information, it's best to get people with different points of view, professional practice and views. In my case, I didn't want (at that time) to invite the patients themselves. I felt I had to be much better prepared for such a conversation. I can't waste the time or energy of seriously ill people. I wanted to come to them with a prototype of a solution.
I asked for help from specialists: psycho-oncologist Adrianna Sobol and the founder of the Onkocafe foundation - Anna Kupiecka. Both workshop participants have extensive experience working with cancer patients. They participate in the therapeutic process and have daily contact with patients from various cities or social groups. They were the perfect partners for me to explore the process patients go through and examine their needs.
Workshop on examining patients' needs
Due to my assumptions, I assigned three main goals of the workshop:
- Acquiring knowledge.
- Description of the patient's therapeutic path.
- Diagnosis of the problem.
- The introduction to creating the persona. These are personality models of potential users of our solution. The creation of a persona allowed us to direct the entire workshop towards actual activities, not just discussion.
To build the path patients follow during therapy, I used ordinary post-it notes and markers. We marked each stage with another note. Colors also mattered. In the following exercises, already strongly empathizing with model users, together with Adrianna Sobol and Anna Kupiecka, I marked:
- Contexts of therapy stages.
- The emotions that accompany model users at these moments.
Patient applications - Research methodology
The results had to be organized, documented and understood.
The best way to understand large amounts of data is to play with them - produce "Disfluency," or experiment with the information. It can be sorting and categorizing, which "creates understanding". Thanks to these experiments, I approached the next meeting as an active designer. I still had many knowledge gaps, but now I had a general understanding of the subject.
During the second workshop, we were able to answer the basic questions that had troubled us at The Story from the very beginning of the process. What is the most important structural problem of the sick? How do they acquire knowledge about therapy and disease?
What's more, we've also answered a number of 'tool' questions: what value will we add to ensure users come back to our e-health solutions? How much time can they spend on learning the solutions? How will they reach them? Will only patients use our application? Can we imagine the context of using the e-health application - everyday and extreme?
After the strategic part, I decided to take a chance, and as a final exercise I proposed an application storyboard. Eight screens to help the patient solve the problem. The task ended in half success. It’s very difficult for people who are not used to drawing solutions to suddenly switch to this mode of thinking. However, sketches (or rather stories) made during the workshop proved to be extremely valuable at the stage of creating application mockups.
Comparison of two applications - Concept test
I finished working on mockups with two application concepts: one resulting from the workshop and the other being the idea of Dymitr Romanowski - CEO of The Story, who also participated in the workshop. Each of them met a different need and purpose of the user, each approached their emotions in a different way.
Testing the early concepts, I first wanted to check which application, with its description, worked better for participants. Therefore, each of them first read the descriptions, and then could test the application of their choice. In total, five patients took part in the concept tests.
During the test, it was a challenge to keep testers' attention on specific, previously invented tasks describing the context of using the application. That is why I decided to refer to memories from therapy. Thanks to this open approach to testing, we have obtained additional information about individual patient histories.
An app for cancer patients - Results
Finally, one of the ideas was "emotionally strong", while the other was much more practical. However, patients indicated that in cancer therapy practice is the key. An application focused on specific actions has a much greater chance of success.
Title photo: Edward Ardizzone, "A Patient in a Medical Aid Post"