Mercy Health and a healthy regard for collaborative design.
How do you make public healthcare easier to access and understand, when most people aren't even familiar with the basics?
Health. It’s a broad and all-encompassing term. Health can cover everything from pregnancy to palliative care, and from mental health to multicultural health engagement programs. There can be infinite complexities to consider and accommodate when approaching the task of improving digital healthcare experiences. It was no mean feat when we teamed up with Mercy Health, a dynamic and rapidly growing Catholic healthcare organisation that provides public healthcare for people across every stage of life.
- Australia wide
Many people rely on public healthcare, but few understand it. Mercy Health wanted to create a clearer, simpler, and more intuitive experience to better accommodate the distinctive needs of both the public and health professionals.
How do you get your head around the operational realities of different hospitals and clinics, in different geographical and socio-cultural spaces? The answer is close consultation. Over the course of four months, 20-plus workshops with more than 60 medical professionals, multiple site visits, and several immersions, we developed a healthy insight into Mercy Health.
Better access to care for the people who need it most, and more efficiencies in hospitals and clinics thanks to prepared visitors armed with easy-to-access and accurate information.
More than 60% of Australia's population has 'less than adequate' health literacy; improving the situation involves making things easy.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, less than 6% of the Australian population has 'high' health literacy. More than 60% of the population has 'less than adequate' health literacy.
On the flipside, ‘digital user experience’ is probably not a term many clinicians use frequently—so some induction and close alignment around some of the technical concepts on both sides was essential from the very start.
Getting on good terms
To get a thorough understanding of every aspect of Health Services, we consulted with multiple groups of specialist clinicians, representing different areas of Mercy Health's hospitals and clinics.
We clarified and categorised key definitions, terminologies, and common phrases, to ensure everyone was on the same page. We analysed treatment and referral pathways to establish a deeper understanding of how people access and experience care.
These early workshops were doubly beneficial.
While learning about each aspect of Mercy Health—the unique needs of one of Victoria’s largest maternity services and an emergency department, for example—we were also identifying the challenges and opportunities staff members face in day-to-day operation.
After a while, we began to diagnose some common problems and identify opportunities to improve the patient experience.
Keep it simple, even if it isn't
One challenge was to find order in the sheer volume of information.
There’s so much vital information around healthcare: from visiting times and preferred visitor etiquette for hundreds of different clinics, right through to the titles and roles of each specialist or clinician you may see throughout your visit.
While there is a huge breadth of content, everything must be neat, clean, easy to find, and consistent across multiple locations: from the well-known Mercy Hospital for Women at Heidelberg to the small sub-acute hospital in the town of Young in New South Wales.
‘From a content perspective, it was about balancing clinical accuracy with accessibility.
You want to raise health literacy by providing a better understanding of the treatment experience; a large part of that is describing medical terms and procedures plainly and simply. It was a process of creating a logical hierarchy of information to guide people through their experience, and then keeping that information easy to consume.’
Elliott Grigg, Senior Copywriter
To add to the complexity, we needed to define an experience for patients, and a separate, no less important experience for the health professionals who need to care for them.
So, we devised a segmented approach that puts patient needs first, while clearly catering to GPs and other referring clinicians.
The primary menu is segmented into these two main audience groups for clear, quick navigation. Individual pages also have a series of tabs that tailor the content based on who you are and what you need.
After considering what people might look for, we explored when they’d be looking. Everything changed.
Mobile first for people on the move
Through speaking with clinicians, we determined most people will use the site when travelling to an appointment, or while visiting a friend or family member.
People will likely be in a state of heightened emotion or anxiety—either in relation to themselves or a loved one—so simplicity and intuitive design at the mobile level was an obvious goal.
Mobile-first UX became key. The experience had to be easy for people to use while travelling, with logical structures and clear labelling.
We built an early stage mobile prototype, to hone, refine, and change functionality on the fly.
If something didn’t feel right or was simply a little clunky in application at the mobile level, we iterated and improved quickly.
For mobile, a variety of ‘touch actions’ keep the experience feeling natural: things like pinch-to-zoom on maps and weighted image dragging in galleries.
Clear directions are the way to go
Another key opportunity for improving user experience involved improving the wayfinding experience.
We identified flagship locations and designed layouts to prioritise bright, bold photography, taken on a series of shoots running concurrently throughout the design and development process.
There’s no better way to guide people to a destination—and cater for a multitude of different language abilities—than to show them exactly what they’re looking for.
The images showcase key areas and landmarks of clinics, but also include a focus on the human and interpersonal aspect of providing care.
For those who are less visually inclined or who need to listen to, rather than read directions, there are also detailed written directions highlighting entrances in relation to nearby landmarks. The idea is to cater for every person and their preferences for processing information.
Easier digital wayfinding
We also improved pathways to information on the website.
There’s a general search functionality to help patients locate clinics or service information, as well as semantic and geographical filters to help people find what they’re looking for, faster.
For example, a medical professional might search for ‘neonatology’ or ‘obstetrics’, while a prospective parent might simply look for ‘pregnancy’ or ‘baby’. The approach is designed to accommodate both preferences.
'We built with all devices in mind, to ensure a consistent experience for everyone.
For example, people with screen readers. When you open a window—say an image gallery—keyboard focus automatically shifts to interact with the relevant content: so, pressing left or right will scroll the gallery to read out the image captions.
On close, keyboard focus returns to the original element, so you’re back to interacting with the main page. As a result, the screen reader accesses the information correctly and replicates the experience of someone using the site on a desktop or mobile phone.’
Lucas Mounsey, Senior Front End Developer
A huge range of people with varying abilities will use the site, so everything meets Level AA of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
Links and buttons are highly visual throughout the site, to make them easy to identify quickly.
Written content is made accessible through techniques like read-time estimates.
There was also a process of simplifying terminology to cater for people with low health literacy. We established a thorough content workflow. Everything on the site passed through 17 different stages of review, with consultation from patient representative groups and floor-staff through to high-level clinicians.
This included clinical review stages, review by health literacy experts at Mercy Health, and testing by consumer representatives: something for which Mercy has developed a strong reputation.
A modular design approach
Once we had a framework for content types, we started creating flexible design elements to build out pages, rather than creating stand-alone templates.
Imagine a patchwork of design features we could pick and choose as they related to each area of Mercy Health. If something changes or becomes seasonally relevant–a particular announcement relating to a health discipline, or a research or funding initiative specific to one clinic–you can simply pick from flexible page elements as necessary.
'By designing in partnership with the developers, and frequently presenting functional prototypes to Mercy Health, we basically skipped static visual design.
We constantly tested new features together, making the process flexible and adaptive. Rather than design in isolation and explain the intentions and interactions, we were discovering and creating improved approaches together.
Throughout these sessions, we got the benefit of seeing Mercy Health use and critique different elements of a potential final product. On the other hand, they enjoyed a tactile sense of what we were building and could give feedback into the small building blocks—forms, navigation, buttons, transition animations—that eventually became the website.’
John Broadfoot, Senior Designer
As a national organisation, Mercy Health's website is just one aspect of their operational physiology. Our solution had to slot seamlessly into their infrastructure and accommodate existing workflows.
Integrating with the existing Mercy SharePoint environment was particularly vital. Working in close consultation with Mercy Health’s in-house tech team, we developed flexible plugins to roll out in accordance with the varying needs of different business units.
The result is easily-implemented functionality for handling enquiries, contact requests, and feedback submissions in line with hospital accreditation requirements.
Putting our assumptions to the test
Once we'd designed and built some potential solutions and combined everything in a prototype, it was time to put things to the test. Literally.
With the help of medical professionals, people with high medical literacy, and some less familiar with the health system, we conducted a series of user testing sessions. There’s no better feedback than from the real people who will eventually use the site.
The insights from these sessions helped us improve certain elements of the design and validated or refuted some of our early thinking.
Results since launch
increase in average session duration
Suggesting people are staying longer on the site to engage with more content.
reduction in bounce rate
Suggesting people are successfully finding the information they need or expect when landing on different pages.
increase in direct traffic
Suggesting Mercy Health staff are referring patients and enquiries to the website as a valuable resource for information.
In conclusion, it's about collaboration
Head over to the Mercy Health website now to check out all these functions and features, and maybe uncover a few more while you're at it.
One thing’s for sure: the new Mercy Health website is the culmination of a truly collaborative design process which has put Mercy Health patients, and the people who care for them, first.