Optimizing App Experiences to “Mobilize” Physicians and Patients

The VA has been actively investing in a mobile strategy over the past few years; the more they can facilitate communication and status information to be shared via mobile apps, the more informed and empowered physicians and patients will be.

  • 1200 outpatient sites
  • 300 veterans centers
  • 145 veterans affairs hospitals
  • More than 19 million military veterans use the apps

Helping the VA up its game

There are more than 19 million military veterans in the United States, almost half of them served in some capacity by the Department for Veterans Affairs. With 1,200 outpatient sites, 300 Vet Centers, and 145 VA hospitals providing quality care, that necessarily involves a lot of administration – and administrative headaches. To address this, the VA has been actively investing in a mobile strategy over the past few years; the more they can facilitate communication and status information to be shared via mobile apps, the more informed and empowered physicians and patients will be. But with each app evolving at a different pace, achieving a consistent user experience increasingly became a challenge. And that’s why they turned to Mad*Pow to help the VA take a holistic view of the mobile environment by defining and building consistency to help the department “up its game.”

VA
M*P: The VA’s many current mobile apps and web portals needed to provide a consistent user experience

Given the scope and diversity of the project, significant effort was applied to patient-facing and provider-facing research to inform a clear path leading to a solid platform for existing apps, as well as a roadmap for the future.

A Commitment to Mobile

The VA knows it can be difficult for veterans to get to a local facility for care, especially for those with physical impairments. And with health care providers having limited time and many patients to see, the ability of having information available on the go is critical. That’s part of why the VA has a demonstrated commitment to mobile, providing dozens of mobile apps for patients, VA physicians, and caregivers to help facilitate the care process.

But with so many apps being developed, built, and maintained by a variety of resources, and no common set of tools and resources to draw from, patterns and components within the apps began to splinter into a variety of different paradigms. This led to users of the apps having to learn new interactions with each, and having to look in different places for common information – leading to frustration and an unwillingness to use the apps consistently, and more than a handful of times.

VA
M*P: Patterns and components within the apps began to splinter into a variety of different paradigms

The 3 R’s: Research, Review and Report

To help highlight the key areas of frustration, the Mad*Pow Experience Research team conducted qualitative research studies with VA health care providers and with veterans using VA services to better understand their day-to-day experiences and observe first-hand how the apps were used, and where users expect to find information.

VA
M*P: Heuristic Evaluation findings

In parallel, Mad*Pow also conducted detailed heuristic evaluations of a core set of seven apps used most frequently by the VA’s key audience segments. These evaluations leveraged Mad*Pow’s knowledge of mobile best practices, along with our deep experience in healthcare, to identify the highest leverage opportunities for improvement. The output from these evaluations, coupled with the feedback culled from the research conducted, allowed Mad*Pow to provide the VA with a recommended action plan for moving forward.

Building a Library

Of course, simply providing a set of recommendations wasn’t going to be enough to help establish the consistency the VA sought across apps. To address that, Mad*Pow leveraged its Experience Design, Visual Design, and Development teams to translate recommendations into a fully coded and documented UX Pattern Library that the VA could integrate into its existing toolkit, thereby ensuring all apps were starting from a unified set of interaction principles and defined component styles. Using some of the interaction patterns the VA had already begun with its VA.gov site as a starting point, the Mad*Pow team focused on the most frequent types of interactions found across the apps and created a standard set of approximately 50 elements. This repository included variants on many of the elements and provided code that could be easily leveraged in the VA’s development environment.

VA
M*P: Visual system recommendation to unify the VA’s mobile apps under one consistent look and feel

Setting the Tone for the Present and the Future

While improving the performance of the existing set of apps was the central part of our engagement with the VA, interviews conducted with VA physicians made it clear there was a need for improving the handoff of patient information from one care provider to the next at the end of their rounds. Some of the apps the VA already had in place provided pieces of this information, but not in a centralized way that would help quickly onboard a care provider as he or she began their shift. The Mad*Pow team worked closely with physicians and product owners within the VA to define requirements for a new mobile-based “rounding tool” and then developed a visual prototype to help bring these ideas to life. This prototype was then tested with a variety of VA health care providers to further refine the information architecture, suggested functionality, and design.

VA
M*P: Mobile-based “Rounding Tool” prototype

With all of these new tools in hand, the VA is well positioned to improve their stable of mobile apps to better meet the needs of their users. And with our ongoing mission of applying design for change, we couldn’t ask for anything better.