Thoughts on UX and Healthcare in California

My last visit out to California was interrupted by a trip to the hospital. My experience as a foreign “user” of emergency healthcare in California was definitely not frictionless.

A red cross with an arrow pointed downwards
A red cross with an arrow pointed downwards

With a few UX principles applied, it the healthcare experience could be better.

1. Navigation has to be dead simple.

I don’t know what percentage of emergency patients are brought in by paramedics and what percentage are walk-ins. But making it easy for people to find the way there could make the difference between life and death.

The way to the hospital is not marked on highway exit signs
The way to the hospital is not marked on highway exit signs

The way to hospitals should be clearly marked. For example, exit signs on highways and street signs could help to point drivers in the right direction:

Mockup with the direction to the hospital marked on a highway sign
Mockup with the direction to the hospital marked on a highway sign

Anyone with impaired vision or just plain panicky (conditions which are very imaginable in emergency situations) would have had even more difficulty finding the way to the ER. Poor sign legibility is dangerous when understanding it is a matter of life or death.

Hospital sign with directional arrows that are hard to see
The unlit arrows pointing to the emergency ward were hardly visible from afar (Photo: Stanley Foss)

Hospital signage obviously needs to be legible in various contexts: from up close, from afar, in bright sunlight or at night:

Mockup of hospital sign with clearly visible directional arrows
Left: The arrows on the hospital sign were unlit and difficult to make out at night. Right: The legibility of hospital signage outweighs any aesthetic tastes. I photoshopped the arrows and border to keep important information easy to discern.

2. Make it easy to understand what’s what.

In an observation room, I go for the hand sanitizer, pump the dispenser and start rubbing the goop in. For some reason it doesn’t dry quickly: I had taken the sanitizer for the soap dispenser and have to then wash my soapy hands. Unfortunate that the soap and sanitizer dispensers were not clearly labeled.

I dry my hands with paper towel and inadvertently toss it into the laundry bin, which is standing directly beside the garbage bin and also not labeled.

Me confusing the hand disinfectant with the soap and laundry with the garbage could have been prevented with clear labelling:

Left: Labels on the soap and disinfectant dispensers. Right: Labels and icons on the garbage and laundry bins.

3. Always keep user needs in mind.

I notice that the bed obviously is not designed for babies, as it lacks the proper railing.

A baby laying on a typical hospital bed or gurney, if unattended, can fall off a) the head or foot of the bed or b) get a body part stuck under the railing.

Emergency rooms should have extra beds – or at least railing on normal beds and gurneys – that prevent little ones from falling out:

Hospital beds should be a safe place for little ones.

Rules of thumb

Keep things simple, easy and beneficial.


Published: Apr 01, 2018

More from my blog