We have detected that you are using Internet Explorer to visit this website. Internet Explorer is now being phased out by Microsoft. As a result, NHS Digital no longer supports any version of Internet Explorer for our web-based products, as it involves considerable extra effort and expense, which cannot be justified from public funds. Some features on this site will not work. You should use a modern browser such as Edge, Chrome, Firefox, or Safari. If you have difficulty installing or accessing a different browser, contact your IT support team.
By Matt Lund, 10 December 2018
In his Expo 18 keynote speech Health Secretary Matt Hancock delighted the user research and service design community when he talked about ensuring “an agile, iterative approach focused on the question: what is the user need?”
Why is this significant to a wider audience? Well, it’s long been clear when designing a tool or service that it’s a good thing to understand people’s needs so we can then try to meet them. But despite this awareness, it doesn’t always happen. Having this clear direction from the very top is focussing minds on the role user research has to play in the development and delivery of effective services.
Part of the challenge is that ‘user’ groups can be highly diverse. It can seem daunting to try and understand everyone who makes use of a tool or system and the services it supports: patients, their circle of care, health and care professionals, management, population analysts…surely it’s simpler to just build something and give it to people, given we’re the experts?
Or are we?
I’m lead user researcher for the NHS Digital Personal Health Records programme, and I’m ok saying that our programme team, all experts in their fields, are not users of our own products.
Because we accept this, we’re constantly involving actual users in the development of the PHR Adoption Toolkit. We listen to them to understand their local context, learn what they need to do now and in future to implement PHRs, and ask them to test early versions of information and tools that might help them achieve those tasks.
As we talk with chief information officers, digital programme managers, clinical leads, PHR suppliers and more, it’s clear that those teams with a strong first-hand understanding of their users’ needs, feel assured they are developing useful tools.
These teams involve users in designing, testing and iterating possible solutions, in agreeing priorities to procure against, and in giving feedback on the impact PHRs have on their health, care and wellbeing. They are confident, based on solid evidence and insight, that these tools have significant potential to transform services and empower those who use them.
It takes commitment to do this well. Commitment to a culture of listening to people and testing ideas early, to avoiding thinking ‘I know best’, and to resourcing research and engagement activities.
To help those getting started on that commitment, and support those already putting it into practice, the PHR Adoption Toolkit now includes an overview of ways to involve users, and links to great resources including the new NHS Digital Service Manual.
We’ve also pulled together information about key PHR-related user needs, which is based on our own research and that of others such as the Royal College of Physicians. It’s not designed to replace your own user research, but is a guide to the kind of user needs you may find locally. It shows how ‘needs’ can be met through testing and iteration, not through assumption and the imposition of a top-down solution.
Getting a clear understanding of users’ needs helps us all see things from other people’s perspectives. It helps us understand how people live and how they want to do things. Ultimately, it leads us to a simple, but crucial question: whose needs are our priority – the ‘business’ or the ‘user’?
We’re keen to understand whether our PHR toolkit is helping people develop, manage and commission PHRs more effectively. You can contact the Personal Health Records toolkit team, sign up for toolkit email updates, take part in our research, or share your good practice.