Who Are the Primary and Secondary Users In Healthcare?

When designing any product or system, we should strive to figure out what is it that users need and how their needs can best be met. User-centered design (UCD) is a framework of processes (physical or digital) in which user's tasks, needs, and pains drive each stage of the design process. To deliver a holistic user experience, we must consider everyone who interacts with a system both directly and indirectly.

When designing any product or system, User Experience (UX) professionals should strive to figure out what users need and how we can best meet these needs. User-centered design (UCD) is a framework of processes (physical or digital) in which users’ tasks, needs, and issues drive each stage of the design process. To deliver a holistic user experience, we must consider everyone who interacts with a system both directly and indirectly.

Primary and Secondary Users

The term primary user describes someone who interacts with a system. The primary user is in direct contact with the system interface and thus is usually most affected by it. When designing any system or interface, user experience professionals must keep in mind the needs and tasks of the primary user. The secondary user does not directly interact with the user interface of the system but is still affected by it. 

To make this concept concrete, let us consider a hospital setting. Imagine a physician in a ward checking on her patients’ needs with a handheld recording device or paper chart on which to note any progress. At each bed, the physician interviews and examines the patient and then makes an entry. Here, the physician is the primary user as she uses the device. The patient is the secondary user, interacting with the physician while the physician makes entries.

User Experience for the Primary and Secondary User

Although almost all systems are designed with the primary user in mind, the fact is that the secondary user is also affected by the system. Designers may know this, but they do not always take this fact into consideration and design for the primary user’s convenience only.

Ole Andreas Alsos and Dag Svanaese of the Department of Computer and Information Science at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway, conducted a study in which they created a hospital environment with mock patients. Physicians conducted rounds using different modes of recording devices. The physicians and the patients were interviewed about their experiences, and the researchers made inferences about how each device affected the primary (physician) and secondary (patient) users.

Researchers found that when physicians used handheld mobile devices to make their entries and keep records, their user experiences were better than other methods. They appreciated that any entry could easily be made and changed, information could be private, and the devices were mobile and easy to carry. On the contrary, when the physicians made records on a terminal placed at the patient’s bedside, they felt their experiences were not satisfying. They did not like the fact that information could not be kept confidential and found it difficult to bend over to write and make records.

The results of the secondary user experience, however, were entirely different from the results of the primary users. Patientsthe secondary userswere more satisfied when physicians used a device that was placed at the patient’s bedside. They felt that if physicians used a handheld device, it occupied their hands as well as their attention, and hence the physician-patient dialogue suffered. When the physician wrote on a terminal placed by the patient’s bedside, the physician was more inclined to engage with the patient.

Conclusion

The user experience for primary and secondary users can be markedly different. Whereas primary users preferred one mode of recording, secondary users were happier with a different mode. What this proves beyond doubt is that any system or device affects both the primary and secondary user.

Health care is an industry in which the patient’s user experience is crucial; patients need to be happy with their physicians and hospitals as a whole. Improving the patient’s user experience should be our goal when we think about improving health-care systems and organizational strategy. Therefore, while designing any device or software for health care, we should keep three priorities in mind for the system: functionality, safety, and usability.

In addition, the secondary user, whether a patient or any other stakeholder, must be accounted for. Improving the patient’s user experience is crucial to developing a better health-care system; hence, all UX professionals must keep in mind the needs and requirements of the secondary user when designing any interface or system, balancing them with the needs of the primary user.

Further Reading:
Bringing User Experience to Healthcare Improvement by Paul Bate, BA, Ph.D.
Designing for The Secondary User Experience by Ole Andreas and Dag Svanaes