User Experience vs NHS flexibility?

The world of connected user facing apps and websites in health has moved on. NHS organisations purchasing digital solutions want maximum flexibility and minimum tie-in. They each want to assemble a unique set of solutions into an ecosystem that works well alongside their public offering and that users actually use and like. The balancing act between these needs or perhaps even conflict ultimately has potential to impact how the end user experiences the digital service.

How do we as software suppliers for the NHS help manage this balancing act and ensure our users get the best experience possible?

The age of interoperability

In an age of interoperability, we are thankfully beginning to move past the point where data is held in silos. All the major clinical system suppliers are now sharing data more through projects such as IAM1, Shared Care Records and NEMS, and the new ICS structure is beginning to simplify Information Governance relationships. This is starting to have a knock-on effect on what can be achieved with user-facing applications.

New challenges and demands

The beginning of this true age of interoperability is raising new challenges and demands for suppliers creating user-facing solutions. Organisations are looking for more flexibility from suppliers – and an ability to work with others in new and unique ways. Every already-existing ecosystem is different, with clinical and digital services commissioned differently, using different combinations of existing digital and clinical infrastructure. In this complex environment, having an ever-bloating digital array of standalone user apps is not an option based on admin alone. Suppliers who can demonstrate benefit by adding new components into the existing patchwork ecosystem that work today, but also in the future will be greeted with interest.

The Impact on UI and UX

The increasing need for flexibility and ecosystem-specific solution gives us a challenge from a UI perspective. We want to give users a great experience moving through products fluidly and efficiently to find and do what they need to. We also want to give organisations the opportunity to build their own ecosystems of applications, reflecting their commissioned services through their digital offering easily and intuitively. These two conflicting needs will ultimately play out on the UI battlefield if not considered at a fundamental level.

We have experienced this first hand throughout our recent work to update the user interface of our flagship product eRedbook. Three key themes have come to light during this work that have helped us as we think about solutions for the future:

  • Integrated user experience – users want a journey that makes sense, with the right information amalgamated and shown to them at the right time. They don’t want patient-facing information to be viewed within the silos it was created in.
  • Flexibility – organisations today want to be able to commission all, or part of digital services more than ever before. It is no longer enough to chunk your product up into “modules” that organisations can choose to buy or not buy. The chunks they want to buy must work with other digital solutions within the space.
  • Interplay – apps can’t exist in isolation of each other. They have to work together.

Interplay is about more than “just” interoperability. Interoperability is concerned primarily with sending data from one application or digital service to another so that digital service can use it for its needs. Interplay on the other hand suggests that they may work together to deliver a solution – the outcome is greater than the sum of the two parts. Interoperability is ok in many circumstances but in many more cases doesn’t deliver great UX. The concept of interplay where the solutions work together to deliver an experience is more likely to yield a great outcome for the user.

Definition of Interoperability and Interplay

The future

This list not only gives us good foundations for the future for our products and but also to our approach to the consultancy work we do with clients. We look forward to being at the cutting edge and delivering for users as organisations put together their fully joined up ecosystems whether with our products or our services.

Post by Cathey Horsfall

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