UX Design10 minute read

Elegant Healthcare UX: A Missing Piece in Medical Product Design (With Infographic)

Medical products with poor usability could harm patients and increase healthcare company costs. Prioritize usability, accessibility, and the patient experience to design effective devices.


Toptalauthors are vetted experts in their fields and write on topics in which they have demonstrated experience. All of our content is peer reviewed and validated by Toptal experts in the same field.

Medical products with poor usability could harm patients and increase healthcare company costs. Prioritize usability, accessibility, and the patient experience to design effective devices.


Toptalauthors are vetted experts in their fields and write on topics in which they have demonstrated experience. All of our content is peer reviewed and validated by Toptal experts in the same field.
Yegor Tsynkevich
Verified Expert in Design
10 Years of Experience

Yegor is a product designer with expertise in building practical, user-centered solutions. He has worked as a product manager and UX director on innovative projects such as the phone repair service iCracked (acquired by Allstate) and a pill management device later acquired by Stanley Black & Decker. Other clients have included Polaroid, DuPont Tate & Lyle, and multiple medtech startups.

Previous Role

Lead Product Designer

PREVIOUSLY AT

Polaroid DuPont Tate & Lyle
Share

Medtech companies may spend years developing and building a new medical product. But innovative technology alone doesn’t make a device effective—it must also be easy to use for medical staff, caregivers, and patients. Good healthcare UX design isn’t a luxury: Medical products with usability issues may pose risks to patients and result in higher expenses for healthcare companies.

Research suggests that device design is a leading cause of medical device recall in the US. So perhaps it’s no surprise that a McKinsey & Company survey found that medtech has fallen behind other industries in adopting design best practices.

I have helped design more than 30 healthcare products—including the award-winning pill dispenser Pillo (now Pria), AI-driven software Inflo Health, and dental inventory dashboard ZenSupplies. Drawing on that experience, in this article I explore the challenges and opportunities of leveraging UX for medical devices and products, and share tips to help medtech teams and designers get the most out of their collaboration.

Over a two-year period, 36% of medical device recalls by the US FDA were the result of design failures.

Fostering Usability in Diverse Healthcare Settings

Medical products may be used in various settings: hospitals, emergency rooms, physicians’ offices, administrative offices, and homes. To design an intuitive device, teams must understand their target users—medical professionals, caregivers, and/or patients—and environmental features. Is the user wearing gloves? If so, small buttons will be difficult to press. How will they operate the device—a switch, a pedal? What is the room’s lighting, temperature, and noise level? What position is the patient in? What are the accessibility requirements for the product? These and other factors influence usability and must be considered during the design process.

Without established UX/UI criteria and thorough target group analysis, I’ve found that product teams tend to focus on incorporating maximum features, resulting in a Frankenstein UX—a product too complex and difficult to navigate. A literature review of studies examining in-home medical device use found that “design was a major cause of confusion,” including confusing buttons and poor instructions, among other issues. A field study identified 22 ways automated hospital systems could cause health providers to dispense the wrong medication to patients.

A common problem with medical device UX design is overloading users with information. Take a surgeon using a device during an operation. Rather than providing them with all the information about the patient and the procedure at once, the device should give them only the data they need at each step. Everyone is susceptible to information overload, and operating rooms are full of interfaces and alerts. Filtered information allows the surgeon to focus on their task.

A device I helped design streamlined communication even further. The device told an anesthesiologist which medication to administer based on the patient’s status. Our design team assigned color codes to each drug so the surgeon would know at a glance which to use. The color coding facilitated a more immediate reaction than reading each medication name—and in this context, even a fraction of a second can save a life.

Bringing Healthcare Into the Digital World

In addition to medical devices, digital products and platforms play a significant role in the healthcare user experience.

While electronic health records are supposed to streamline care, they are often found to exacerbate physician burnout. Similarly, the benefits of leveraging digital technologies for in-home care and communication are often undercut by poor design. In a study of digital healthcare interactions (e.g., scheduling an appointment, receiving and reading test results), close to half of patients experienced at least one pain point such as trouble finding information or understanding lab results, and digital interactions had more pain points than in-person ones.

While telehealth use skyrocketed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the accessibility of health apps did not. Many health apps are incompatible with screen readers, for example, making them inaccessible to users with impaired vision. Other common issues include poor color contrast that makes text difficult to read and too-small buttons that can be difficult to press without error.

When I helped design Pria, an automated medication dispenser for patients that simplifies pill management, our design team knew a smooth user experience would help ensure patients got the medication they needed at the right time. We knew the device would be used primarily by older adults but might be purchased by caregivers, often the patient’s adult children.

We designed Pria as a friendly and caring companion, adding warmth to digital interactions and fostering safety and comfort for patients and caregivers. We also diligently followed the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines and incorporated appropriate contrast and font sizes to make the user interface easy to read and navigate; every interaction was designed to be straightforward and hassle-free.

Patients found Pria easy to use, and caregivers were delighted by the device’s sleek appearance and the peace of mind its features, such as mobile alerts for missed doses, gave them.

The pill dispenser Pria has a round screen with eyes and a smile to reassure patients. Below its screen, it dispenses pills into a cup.
The Pria pill dispenser is designed to look like a friendly companion. (Pria)

Creating good digital user experiences matters in healthcare settings too. Much innovation in the healthcare space involves digitizing medical communication, data, and processes. Yet hospitals, startups, and medtech companies don’t always have the internal capabilities to translate offline procedures into practical digital user experiences. Improving the UX of digital health interactions is where product design comes into play.

I worked with a medical facility at which various teams relied on a labyrinth of emails and spreadsheets to manage patient statuses and treatment progress. The system sapped staff time and made collaboration among teams challenging. The company’s goal was to innovate the standard of care for neurologic and behavioral health disorders—but how could it achieve this without more efficient tools?

The design team set out to translate a complex manual process across multiple teams into a digital product that would improve efficiency and enable the staff to manage patient care seamlessly. Meeting with a diverse group of medical professionals, including neuroscientists, neurosurgeons, clinicians, analysts, neurodiagnostic technologists, and administrative staff, was the first step toward developing a new digital platform.

With these end user perspectives in mind, we analyzed the product’s functionality and prioritized features. We then built the platform to automate essential processes, removing the need for medical staff to perform tedious manual tasks. The platform streamlined access to patient statuses, treatment progress, and critical data, empowering neurosurgeons and neuroscientists to make informed decisions quickly. By saving time, the product created significant financial savings for the company. Real-time updates to data made communication more efficient, and, as a result, patients received more focused, timely, and comprehensive care.

Centering the Patient Experience

A BMJ review that examined 55 studies found a positive link between patient experience and clinical effectiveness. So whether the end user of a product is a medical professional or a patient, the product team should consider patients’ needs and experiences during the design process.

Unfortunately, a passion for innovation combined with evidence-backed technology often leads to product design solely determined by the vision of creators and clinicians (designed by scientists, for scientists)—there’s a lack of patient input. For example, an insulin pump that monitors blood sugar levels and delivers insulin automatically became available in 2019. Despite the device being a significant technological development, nearly a fifth of its early adopters stopped using it within months. These adopters said they gave up using it because the device needed too many calibrations and was sometimes forced out of auto mode.

Similarly, a study found that overly complicated or malfunctioning home-use devices caused worry and frustration in patients, sometimes preventing them from following their treatment plans. When I had the opportunity to work on a device that could identify breast cancer, our design team delved into the patient’s perspective by asking essential questions about how patients would interact with the device. A crucial revelation emerged: Patients would see the screen when it displayed their results.

Initially, the screen had a black background and was filled with scientific terminology. But this design inadvertently contributed to fear and anxiety among patients during an already stressful experience.

We redesigned the interface to make it more approachable and to instill a sense of comfort and trust in the technology. The new screen displayed results in clear language (no medical jargon) and warmer colors. The impact of this simple change was remarkable. Patients reported feeling more at ease, and the technology was seen as a supportive partner rather than something to be feared. This experience reaffirmed that every aspect of the patient’s journey, even minor interface details, can profoundly affect their well-being.

The takeaway? Successful product commercialization in healthcare requires deep analysis of both user needs and feedback. UX designers add an invaluable perspective here: They ask questions, examine user journeys, and analyze the context in which the product is used. This work can identify shortcomings in the original vision of a medical device and resolve them before testing the product. Going through testing with a poor design can increase the cost of creating a device when you have to go back and make changes. In addition, if you change anything after the device is approved, the product has to go through regulatory approval processes again.

Questions designers should ask clinicians when creating a medical device include, “What problem does the product solve?” and “What context will the product be used in?”

Healthcare UX Matters

Applying UX design in healthcare is rewarding work that benefits patient well-being. Prioritizing UX from the start can save time and money—and help achieve medtech’s vision for improved health.

Effective collaboration between medtech professionals and designers could have far-reaching impacts across the industry. For instance, in collaboration with a medtech team, our design team created a UI for a device that counts sponges after operations. Nurses simply point the device at buckets that hold surgical waste and the device counts sponges in them in a matter of seconds. If the total is off, nurses will count the wasted sponges manually, and the device can be used to find a sponge left in the patient’s body. Previously, counting sponges was an entirely manual process, consuming precious time and attention. But operating this device takes seconds and requires no specialized training. Our UX approach reduced the likelihood of human error, enhancing patient safety significantly.

Applying healthcare UX to even more medical procedures and products will multiply its impact and create better health outcomes for more people.

This infographic illustrates some of the primary UX design considerations for medical products. By taking these factors into account, designers can ensure that medical products are safe, accessible, and meet users’ needs.

Internal-7_Infographic-Render-4.png

Download a PDF version of this infographic.

Understanding the basics

  • What is healthcare UX?

    Healthcare UX refers to the design and optimization of digital interfaces, systems, and processes in the healthcare industry. It focuses on creating intuitive, user-friendly experiences for patients, healthcare professionals, and administrators to improve efficiency, accessibility, and patient satisfaction.

  • Why is UX design important in healthcare?

    UX design directly impacts patient experiences, engagement, and outcomes. Well-designed healthcare interfaces and systems enhance usability, reduce errors, and improve communication. Good UX promotes efficient workflows, leading to better care and an improvement in the overall quality of healthcare services.

  • How do I apply UX design to healthcare?

    Start by understanding the needs and goals of users. Conduct user research, map out user journeys, and consider patient care. Design usable interfaces, digitize complex processes, and prioritize accessibility. Collaborate with healthcare professionals to ensure your intended design aligns with their workflows.

Hire a Toptal expert on this topic.
Hire Now
Yegor Tsynkevich

Yegor Tsynkevich

Verified Expert in Design
10 Years of Experience

Santa Cruz, Portugal

Member since October 5, 2021

About the author

Yegor is a product designer with expertise in building practical, user-centered solutions. He has worked as a product manager and UX director on innovative projects such as the phone repair service iCracked (acquired by Allstate) and a pill management device later acquired by Stanley Black & Decker. Other clients have included Polaroid, DuPont Tate & Lyle, and multiple medtech startups.

authors are vetted experts in their fields and write on topics in which they have demonstrated experience. All of our content is peer reviewed and validated by Toptal experts in the same field.

Previous Role

Lead Product Designer

PREVIOUSLY AT

Polaroid DuPont Tate & Lyle

World-class articles, delivered weekly.

Subscription implies consent to our privacy policy

World-class articles, delivered weekly.

Subscription implies consent to our privacy policy

Join the Toptal® community.