How to Conduct Usability Testing in a Healthcare Setting

Usability testing is a method where users try to complete tasks with a product or service. Meanwhile, observers are present who carefully watch and analyze the users and determine their success or failure at completing the task, their body language, usability issues encountered, users' reactions, etc. The actual measures can vary according to the study design.

The purpose of usability testing is to confirm whether or not a product is efficient, whether users find it useful, and how it can be improved (among other things). This kind of testing is very effective as there is a direct collaboration between the end-user and the product developer. In this way, first-hand feedback is gained which can then be used to improve the features of the product and design it in a way that the system model matches the users' mental model, so it offers maximum benefit to the user.

Usability research is also necessary to be competitive in any market; it's no longer an advantage to have good user experience, it's a requirement to stay up to speed with the competition. A constant feedback loop is essential for the growth of any product and usability testing provides the perfect toolbox for the 'measure' part of the 'build, measure, learn' Lean UX methodology.

Usability Testing In Healthcare Setting

Within a healthcare setting, possible candidate systems for usability testing include X-ray or MRI machines, equipment like I/V drips, injections, software such as electronic healthcare records, medical websites, etc. Honestly, any product or system you can think of can be tested. The objective of usability testing can be manifold. Testing may be done as part of a process to meet ISO standards, or it may be done to iron out issues in a product and match a specific use case before it goes live at a provider site.

How Do I Conduct A Usability Test?

Now that we understand what a usability test is, the next step is to learn in detail how to conduct one and then analyze its results. There are four stages to carrying out usability testing.

  1. Plan the test
  2. Carry out and moderate the test
  3. Analyze the results
  4. Prepare and present the report

1 – How To Plan Your Study

A usability test without a plan is a test set for failure. The first thing to clarify is what aspect of a product or machine you want to test. It may be related to the interface of a product e.g. can healthcare providers efficiently use the interface of this design? Does it save time? Do they understand what the different terms mean and how various options can be selected? Your objective or objectives should be the first things you determine. If you don't define objectives before testing it will be challenging to focus your analysis and recommendations, generative user research is better suited to exploratory methodologies. Once you know what you want to test, it's time to choose the type of test. Here are a few examples from

A usability test is no good without users to participate in the test. Try to make sure that the people who are taking part in your study are the ones who will be using the product in the wild. If the actual end-users of a product are not available, as is often the case in healthcare where physicians and other users are often extremely busy, it's your job as a UX professional to create a screener that selects for representative testing participants. It's also worth keeping in mind that participants must be interested in the study and must be willing to provide honest feedback for your test results to be considered valid.

A usability test without a plan is a test bound to failure. - click to tweet this

Make your testing scenario as real as possible. If you're building software for hospitals, it is best to use a real hospital setting, although that might not be practical in many instances. In cases where the actual use setting is not available, creating an environment that closely matches it is the next most desirable option. Beware testing in 'usability lab' settings, as they tend to bias results because participants aren't in the same frame of mind as they would be at work.

Once you have selected your participants and selected a location for your test, create a list of the tasks you want to accomplish. This list should be as detailed and exhaustive as possible, defining each small detail so that you can replicate the same test with all participants. 

2 – How To Conduct Your Study

Now that you have a working plan, it is time to gather the participants and start your usability testing. Here, you will be acting as an observer and a moderator and must not interfere with the users’ experience. It is vital that you have consent from all participants in a study. Also, think about any other documents you might want a participant to sign, such as a non-disclosure agreement (NDA).

Before you start testing, talk to the participants and explain what they need to do during the test. Always be transparent at the beginning of a test by telling participants what you are testing for, what their data will be used for, detailed instructions on what the user needs to do, and any other ethical concerns. Ensure that they understand the goals and encourage them to talk aloud while they use the product so that you can start to build up a mental model for that user. Then, let them work while you stand aside and observe quietly. You should be looking at their behavior, body language, ease of product use, and listening to what they are saying.

While the users are performing their task, you should note down as much as you can, you'll forget it later, trust me! Note their comments and how they feel about the product. Making a video of the whole process can also be useful as you can retrospectively see the users’ experience in detail.

3 – Analyzing Results

Determine whether the users succeeded or failed in carrying out the task at hand. Note which part of the test was the hardest for them to do and which was the easiest, where they faced problems, etc. Depending on what you were testing, your analysis method will differ. You can use both quantitative and qualitative measures in your analysis. Again, there are many useful resources online that describe approaches to analyzing usability test data. Making sense of the data: Collaborative data analysis has some nice ideas about collaborative analysis.

4 – How To Make Your Report

In your report, be very clear about the issues faced by the users and how the product can be improved. Consider suggestings that came directly from participants, but also analyze those suggestions to create better recommendations. Using bar graphs and other pictorial techniques usually make it easier to view and understand a report.

Depending on the scale and timelines of a project, the report can be delivered as a one-page executive summary, PowerPoint presentation, a  concise report, or a well written and detailed account. Choose the format that best suits your project and the audience of the results. No CEO is going to read a 200-page usability report from cover to cover! Check out Reporting the Results of a Usability Test for some more tips.


Usability testing is a crucial step in healthcare IT or medical device design and development. It is necessary for FDA approval as well as for improving the user experience and efficiency. We should be meticulous and careful when planning and conducting a usability test to ensure we're gathering the right data and interpreting it in the correct way. A single error can go a long way in ruining your study, and a single error in a deployed healthcare system could ruin somebody's life (zero errors can save a life).

Further Reading

  1. Handbook of Usability Testing by Jefferey Rubin, Dana Chisnell.
  2. A comparison of usability methods for testing interactive health technologies: Methodological aspects and empirical evidence by Monique W.M. Jaspers.