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“All About Patient Intercepts” – Part 2 of 2: Don’t Overlook the Waiting Room

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“When employed to its full potential, field research done in unique user environments can uncover opportunities to innovate customer experience.” – UX Magazine, Making the Most of Ethnographic Research

In last month’s blog “The 3 C’s of Patient Intercepts”, we discussed the technique – including the “why” and “how-to” of patient intercepts, a qualitative research tool to capture patient insights via a 10-15 minute interview in the context of a healthcare setting. In this blog, we’ll talk about why the patient waiting room presents a convenient and productive setting to put this technique into practice, and how intercepts may trump user groups when it comes to contextual research.

While the client’s business goals and budget often dictate the research tool – we were reminded during a recent project that context and culture are important factors in attaining strong and honest research data. This past year, Red Privet partnered with Geisinger Health System to design and build the ProvenExperience App – part of a groundbreaking step to improve patient experience. As part of Geisinger’s new promise to refund copays for spine and bariatric surgery if customers are unhappy with outcomes, this app was built as a tool for patients to provide feedback on their experience and request refunds. Read more about this initiative.

Initially, we intended to work with a patient advisory panel in a focus group-type setting to get pre-launch feedback on the overall app design, wireframes, and information flow within the application. What we found was that this focus-group style setting did not provide the level of feedback we desired. The user group format made it difficult for participants to engage in the patient-mindset. That’s when we decided to talk to real patients, in the real context of being a patient. We gained permission to speak with patients in the waiting room areas (specific to the treatments being piloted) to engage them 1:1 and get their reactions to the app. These intercept surveys were not only productive, but yielded in-depth feedback on the app that gave us more usable and actionable insights than the focus group.

So, why were patients in the waiting room eager to help? To begin, context is important in research, and often you’ll find that people react differently in groups (focus group) versus a 1:1 engagement. Focus groups are powerful and have their place in the research mix, but in healthcare, sometimes it removes the context of what it’s like to be a patient. By studying a user in their environment – the waiting room, you can get a user’s feedback while they’re actually in the mindset of being a patient.

Here are some important factors to consider when conducting waiting room patient intercepts.

Benefits of using the waiting room for patient Intercepts:

  • Generally, it only takes a few phone calls to get access.
  • Since you’re capturing patients in a natural environment such as the waiting room, you don’t have to recruit or schedule participants.
  • It’s a powerful context as participants are in a “healthcare mindset”.
  • People are mostly willing to assist in your research as they’re often looking to pass time while waiting for their visit (or a loved one).
  • You can segment your audience in broad strokes – simply by choosing which waiting room to use for intercepts. For example, if you’re looking for parent feedback, choose the Pediatrics waiting room. You can segment age, or even by gender (Women’s Health Center).
  • No honorariums are generally needed – saving up to $100/participant.
  • Feedback is often fast and candid.

Limitations to consider:

  • You don’t have a set amount of time with patients and you can’t control them getting called into the office. If they’re called in, your interview can be abruptly ended.
  • What you do, say and ask is not confidential given the openness of the environment.
  • Keep the department in context. For example, patients in an emergency department waiting room may have a heightened level of anxiety, which may impact their responses.
  • Intercept research can be emotionally difficult on your research staff. Often times they’re engaging in difficult conversations given the topic.       Be sure to assess and manage your staff’s well being, and give them ample time on other projects to avoid emotional burnout.

Making the most of your research time:

  • Establish a goal and a series of questions you want to answer going into the research. What do you want to make sure you learn from the time you have with users? Check in with those questions throughout the intercepts to see if you’re getting what you need.
  • Go in with what you want to know, but don’t be afraid to change your questions or approach on the spot. Research is about knowing that things will be uncertain when you go into the field. Have some backup activities/questions you can use in case you aren’t getting what you need.
  • Know the segments you want to target before going in. Take note of when you get one of those segments.
  • Be upfront about what you’re doing and don’t be discouraged if someone says they aren’t interested in doing research. Especially in health care, you never know the state of mind someone is in when they’re in a waiting room. They may be anxious or sad and aren’t in a good mindset to answer questions at that time.
  • Talk to the nurses and support staff. They will give great insights into trends they see in patients. They can also help you find more of a segment or let you know when more patients are coming in.
  • If a patient goes off course from the questions you have prepared, listen to them. Let them tell you their story. It’ll build rapport and then you can reference their story if you want to know specific attitudes or behaviors.

To do people-centered design, you need to do people-centered research. You need to go out into the field. And in a hospital setting – don’t overlook the waiting room. It may just provide you with a pool of patients who are ready to engage.

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