September 15th, 2010 | Published in Google Research
When I relocated to New York City a few years ago, some of the most important health information for me to have on hand was my immunization history. At the time, though, my health records were scattered, and it felt like a daunting task to organize them -- a not-uncommon problem that many people face. For me, the solution came when Google Health became available in May of 2008, and I started using it to organize my health information and keep it more manageable. I also saw the potential to do much more within Google Health, such as tracking my overall fitness goals. When I joined the Google Health team as the lead user experience researcher, I was curious about the potential for Google Health to impact people’s lives beyond things like immunization tracking and how we could make the product a lot easier to use. So I set out to explore how to expand and improve Google Health.
Here at Google, we focus on the user throughout the entire product development process. So before Google Health was first launched, we interviewed many people about how they managed their medical records and other health information to better understand their needs. We then iteratively created and tested multiple concepts and designs. After our initial launch, we followed up with actual Google Health users through surveys, interviews, and usability studies to understand how well we were meeting their needs.
From this user research, we learned what was working in the product and what needed to be improved. Here are some of the things our users found especially useful:
- Organizing and tracking health-related information in a single place that is accessible from anywhere at any time
- Sharing medical records easily with loved ones and health care providers, either by allowing online access or by printing out health summaries
- Referencing rich information about health topics, aggregated from trusted sources and Google search results
Our users also described to us the benefits they saw from using Google Health:
“Google Health gives me many tools to research my prescriptions and symptoms, and to track all of the many tests I keep having. Google Health made several necessary and cumbersome tasks easy and worry free.”
“For years now, I've tried to remember my son’s allergies and medications, but the list has grown so long, that I kept forgetting one or two when a doctor asked me about them. That can't happen again because I now have a single place to keep up with them. And I love the fact that I can print off information for situations when I really need it.”
“I really like that I can share my profile with others. I want my mom to know my medical information, just in case anything ever happens to me.”
While we learned that our users were clearly getting positive results from using Google Health, our research also taught us that more was needed. We learned that we needed to make fundamental changes to fully meet the needs of all of our current and prospective users, such as those that are chronically ill, those who care for family members, and especially those users looking to track and improve their wellness and fitness.
On this last point, our user surveys already pointed out that there was more we could do to help our users track and manage their wellness, not just their sickness, so we conducted further research about how people collect, monitor, track, and analyze their wellness data. We interviewed several people in their homes and invited others into our usability labs. As a result, we identified several areas where we could improve Google Health to make it a more useful wellness tool, including:
- Dedicated wellness tracking including pre-built and custom trackers
- Efficient manual data entry as well as automatic data collection through devices
- A customizable summary dashboard of wellness and other health topics
- Goal setting and progress tracking using interactive charts
- Personalized pages for each topic with rich charts, journaling, and related information
These insights led us to a whole new set of design proposals. We gathered feedback on the resulting sketches, wire-frames, and screenshots from active and new Google Health users. The results throughout this process were eye-opening. While we were on the right track for some parts of the design, other parts had to be corrected or even redesigned. We went through several iterations until we had a design that tested well and we felt met the user needs our research had uncovered. Finally, we conducted several usability studies with a functioning prototype throughout the product development process to continuously improve usability and function.
At the end, the collaboration between the user experience, engineering, and product management teams resulted in an entirely new user experience for Google Health combined with a set of new functionality that is now available for you to try out at www.google.com/health. See for yourself how the old and new versions compare. Here is a screenshot of a health profile in the new version:
And this is how the same account and profile looked in the old user interface:
As a Google Health user, I am excited to take advantage of the new design and have already started using it for my own exercise and weight tracking. And on behalf of the user experience team and the entire Google Health team, we’re excited about being able to bring you a new design and more powerful tool that we think will meet more of your health and wellness needs.
We look forward to continuing to explore how we can make Google Health even more useful and easier to use for people like you. As you use Google Health, you may see a link to a feedback survey at the top of the application. If you do, please take the time to fill it out - we will be listening to your input!