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App Critique: Kaiser Permanente

I recently made an appointment using the Kaiser Permanente mobile app and noticed that I was struggling to accomplish goals that most users (I assume) would need to complete. Although I have been using this app for two years now and have always noticed that it didn't seem easy to use, I can now use my designer's lens to understand and analyze why the app doesn't feel intuitive and how it could be improved.


Thanks to Siyu Jia for the helpful app critique framework!


Background

  • This is a critique of the Kaiser Permanente Android app, designed as a companion for the desktop website.

  • As of this writing, the Kaiser Permanente Android app has 1,000,000+ downloads on Google Play and has a 4.3/5 stars rating from 20,000+ reviews.

  • **Unfortunately, the app doesn't allow me to take screenshots, so I'm unable to highlight the screens or elements I'm referring to.


Kaiser Permanente Android app on Google Play


1. The Problem

  • The Kaiser Permanente (KP) app intends to provide users who are insured through KP with quick access to their doctors, nurses, pharmacy, and medical record. Rather than having to call KP directly during business hours, patients and caregivers can use the app to access information on the go and when it's convenient for them.

  • Since users must book appointments, order prescriptions, and access their medical records through KP, there are no alternative mobile products that solve for this problem. However, patients and caregivers can alternatively use KP's desktop website to accomplish these goals.


2. Users

  • There are several different users of this app, so I've created the following proto-personas to help me understand main user motivations and goals.


Parent, age 25-50, who wants to know the medical record for their child. A parent's motivation is to have up to date information on their child's medical history and know when their next appointments or vaccines should be scheduled. If they have more than one child, this information may be hard to remember.



Illustration from undraw.com


Individual, age 18-65, who is making an appointment for themself. An individual wants to quickly book an appointment that works best with their busy schedule, rather than having to call KP directly to make an appointment.





Illustration from undraw.com



Caregiver, age 30-65, who is ordering a prescription for their aging parents or an individual in their care. Caregivers want to make sure that they are providing the right care for their dependents, which includes keeping prescription refills up to date. Having an easy-to-access list of all medications is helpful to remembering which refills are needed.

Illustration from undraw.com

  • Since I don't have user research to support these personas, I will also assume that individuals 65+ are more likely to use the desktop website or call KP directly to make an appointment, fill a prescription, or access their medical record.

  • Proto-personas also include new, regular, and expert users.

3. UX


3.1 Information Architecture

  • The app uses a hamburger menu plus quick-access cards on the home screen. Both types of navigation have a lot of overlap, but the hamburger menu includes three additional elements - profile + settings, bill pay, and find a doctor. I thought that the hamburger menu would be accessible on all screens, but it's only accessible one level down in navigation, which makes it unnecessary. Since you can only access it one level down, it's just as easy to click the back button once to navigate to the home screen to see very similar access cards.

  • I would suggest making the navigation visible and accessible on all screens or to include all navigation elements on the home screen, since the cards are easy to read and are large enough to easily click on.

  • I noticed that the link to Member ID Card is on the bottom of the screen, which places it in the desired 'thumb zone'. However, it's a text link rather than a card, like the other navigation elements on the screen. It's also hidden until the user scrolls down, which means it could be easily overlooked. In fact, I never noticed this element before today and I am a regular user of the app.

  • I would suggest turning this into a card for consistency with other navigation elements.

  • Overall, the cards on the home screen provide users with visibility and easy access to help accomplish their main goals: make/view appointments, fill prescriptions, and view their medical record.


3.2 Interaction Design

  • Discoverability: The majority of the icons used throughout the app are labeled for easy understanding, but there are still some icons that are unlabeled and this may interrupt a user's flow, especially for a new user or someone who is not a frequent app or internet user (i.e. an older individual).

  • I suggest labeling all icons to increase understanding for all users and to speed up task flows.

  • Signifiers: Most affordances have a signifier to show users what actions they can take and what they can expect when they take it. However, certain elements that are clickable don't actually look like they can be clicked.

  • In these instances, I suggest adding signifiers to the UI, like icons (i.e. arrows or carats to show the intended interaction) or shadows to make clickable areas look like cards.

  • Feedback: The app does a good job of providing feedback for users, including with visibility of system status. For example, if a user wants to transfer prescriptions into KP, the system shows that there are 4 steps to the process and where the user is in the process.


  • Constraints: The app does a nice job of using constraints and progressive disclosure to only show users what's possible or important to do on each screen. For example, when making an appointment, users are given one main choice per screen (i.e. preferred location or type of appointment).


  • Hick's Law: Similar to the use of constraints, the app uses progressive disclosure to reduce the amount of time it takes to complete a specific task, like making an appointment. When there are multiple choices on a screen, the UI uses visual hierarchy to help users scan categories to find the choice they want.

  • Thinking of users who are may be multi-tasking, busy, or older, having multiple options on a screen can increase confusion and the time it takes to complete a task. On the "Get Care" screen, which is the gatekeeper to making an appointment, I suggest adding additional progressive disclosure to the flow, or simplifying UX Writing to make choices easier to skim and understand.


  • Consistency: One area to improve is consistency with interactions and visuals. However, I'll cover visual consistency in a later section. The KP app often switches between selection controls, varying between radio buttons, cards, buttons, and text links as means of making selections. There doesn't seem to be any rules about which which selection pattern the app will display on each screen, which diminishes the app's ease of use and can lead to confusion for users, especially new users.

  • I suggest maintaining consistency with interactions, like using cards for higher-level navigation and radio buttons or check boxes for selection controls.

3.3 Usability


Efficiency/Productivity

  • Task Completion: For the main flows I identified earlier (making an appointment, checking a medical record, and filling a prescription), the app is relatively simple to use. For the majority of screens, constraints are used so that the user knows what action to take at that step in order to quickly move through the flow. The app also minimizes distraction, so that users of all levels can quickly complete their tasks. Clear screen labels remind users what their intended action is at that step, to reduce cognitive load.

  • However, I noticed that some screens are mislabeled, which might lead to confusion and a delay in completing tasks, so I suggest using clear and effective labeling throughout the app. The system itself also seems to have recurring issues with accessing the server, so although this isn’t necessarily related to UX, bugs and system issues directly influence the overall user experience.

  • Flexibility of Use: The app does not allow modification or have shortcuts for expert users. The interface is relatively simple and the app isn’t a daily tool, so there may not be a real need to enable modifications.

Effectiveness

  • Visibility of System Status: With longer tasks, like registering a new account or transferring a prescription, the app provides visibility into how long the process will take and where users are in the system. However, in many instances, progressive disclosure is used, leaving users unable to see where they are in the process or how many additional screens it will take before they can accomplish their goal.


  • Error Prevention: Due to COVID-19, patients and caregivers are unable to schedule in-person visits for many appointments. Rather than having a message at the beginning of the task flow, users go through a few screens before they realize that it actually isn’t possible to complete their goal through the app.

  • I suggest placing error prevention messages at the beginning of task flows to prevent users from spending unnecessary time on a flow that will have to be completed in another manner. I also recommend including microcopy on forms to inform users of formatting requirements before an error is made.

  • Error Diagnosis and Recovery: Error messaging is inconsistent. On some forms, error messaging is revealed in red, inline with the error. On other forms, an error message in gray pops up in a snack bar on the bottom of the screen. Overall, error messaging clearly states what the user needs to fix in order to move forward.

  • I suggest displaying error messaging consistently throughout the app so that users can easily identify which element needs to be fixed so that they can accomplish their goals. This will also increase the learnability of the app.

3.4 UX Writing

  • The app’s tone is serious and makes the user feel like it’s a trusted source of information, which is important for a medical app. Thinking of various user contexts, for example, searching for a medical record while on the phone, trying to make an urgent care appointment, or realizing that a prescription needs to be refilled by a physician, there’s a need for a warmer or more comforting tone to help ease the stress associated with medical issues.

  • I suggest blending a serious tone with comforting messaging throughout the app, so that users feel like the KP system cares about their well-being at every stage and no matter what goal they are trying to accomplish.

4. UI

  • Brand Identity: The app struggles to maintain a consistent brand identity. Although KP's brand colors are blue and white, screens switch between pink, green, and blue, leading to an inconsistent brand identity.

  • I suggest using a consistent color theme to maintain brad consistency/identity and to prevent potential confusion about what users can expect on each screen, since they may attribute meaning with color.

  • Typography: The app uses sans-serif font throughout, which is great for readability. However, pairing a light gray color with small font for description text and important messaging does not pass WCAG accessibility guidelines and will prevent users with visual impairments from being able to quickly access the care and information they need. Since the KP app enables users to access important medical information and care, it’s even more critical to have a fully accessible app.

  • I suggest following WCAG guidelines for overall accessibility, but in this case, particularly for font color and size.

  • Visual Hierarchy: Visual hierarchy makes it easy for users to identify the main action on each screen and to find the information they are looking for.


5. Business Strategy

  • My assumption is that Kaiser Permanente would like to minimize the amount of support staff it needs for its call center, reduce wait times to make appointments and fill prescriptions, and enable users to pay bills online rather than through the mail, so that they receive payments faster. A mobile app allows users to accomplish their goals more quickly than having to call KP directly and at times that are convenient for them. To encourage patients and caregivers to use the app, it’s important to improve the user experience of the app through revisiting UX strategy and UI patterns. Improving the user experience will also increase trust in the company as a whole.

  • In addition, building out intended app features that don’t currently work, like finding a doctor or office location, would keep users on the mobile app instead of directing them to the KP website. This would also make it easier for users to find the information they’re looking for on their preferred platform, rather than having to switch to the desktop version or calling KP directly.


6. Summary


Overall, I give the KP Android app 3/5 stars. A focus on improving the app’s UX/UI will greatly increase the reliability, trust, and desirability of the app.

  • Pros:

  • The app enables users to accomplish basic tasks related to medical issues and does not overwhelm with unnecessary options. Specific and necessary tasks are able to be completed relatively easily and quickly.

  • The app is a nice extension to the KP website, providing more flexibility for users to accomplish their tasks in various contexts and to complete their goals without having to directly contact KP.

  • Cons:

  • Issues with accessibility may prevent some users from accessing the information and care they need, which is especially harmful since the app intends to make it easier to accomplish tasks related to medical care.

  • Engineering bugs slow down or sometimes fully prevent task completion, which prevent users from accessing important information and care.

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