Your Guide to Healthcare Personas

Healthcare Persona Image

Do you wonder why patients don’t engage more with your website? Why they download but never use your app? Why they didn’t react to your campaign? Consider this: Perhaps the experiences you’re building aren’t addressing your audience’s true concerns or emotions. Through our work with health systems around the country, we see this disconnect often. Our suggestion: Before you invest in digital solutions, create robust healthcare personas.

Ready to learn more? From “Why personas?” to “What’s the ROI?” – here’s your guide to healthcare personas:

Why should I build healthcare personas?

Personas help you discover and stay focused on your audience. They showcase your audience’s motivations, challenges, concerns and behaviors – the things that underpin the healthcare decisions they make – so that you can build structures, processes, designs and content that resonate with them. Healthcare personas also can be used as the foundation for healthcare journey maps.

But I know my audience! Why do I need personas?

If you work for a healthcare organization, no matter how empathetic you try to be, healthcare is now routine. The result: You often overlook the complexities and emotional backdrop of healthcare.

No judgement here. It’s simple psychology. Our brains are wired to disregard unnecessary background noise – literally and figuratively. We tune out ambient noises like traffic or chatter around us so we can focus on the task at hand. But when that noise is brought to our attention, we hear it clearly again.

In other words, you think you’re tuned into your audience. But chances are you’re not viewing through their lens:

  • You: Have a reasonably clear understanding of the healthcare process
  • Healthcare consumer: Doesn’t get the process because, let’s face it, it’s hugely convoluted
  • You: Know when a patient should be considering a specific healthcare next step
  • Healthcare consumer: May or may not know, but regardless isn’t going to act on that information until she’s emotionally ready to do so

The result: Without meaning to, or realizing you’re doing it, you start to build and design and write for yourself, not your audience.

What are marketing personas versus UX personas?

There are two main types of healthcare personas, each with different goals.

Marketing personas define broad audience demographics. They’re useful when buying an email list or building a large targeted campaign. Marketing personas pinpoint the demographics of who to target, their affinities, and one key message that might resonate.

But we don’t connect with demographics, we connect with people — individual human beings.

UX personas expose your audience as complex and emotional human beings who don’t always follow a logical path in making their healthcare decisions. They indicate not just one overarching message, but the finer points of what motivates them, what stops them, what expectations they have for your brand, and more. UX personas have a real name – John, Simone, Anita – so that you build a relationship with them.

  • Marketing persona: “women, ages 35-50, married with kids, income over $60K”
  • UX persona: “Tanya, 41, graphic designer, enjoys swimming, is motivated to stay healthy to keep up with her two young children but can’t find the time to schedule her mammogram…”

Sure, Tanya is fictitious, and she’s based on demographic data. But she feels real now. We understand her concerns and want to build structures, designs, and content that truly meet her needs.

How do I choose my healthcare personas?

Start with data. Who are your top audiences? Where are your key opportunities for growth? It may be tempting to jump to service lines: primary care, ortho, heart, cancer, etc. But it’s often better to consider the human. Perhaps:

  • Unengaged Young Millenial
  • Starting a Family
  • Commander in Care (cares for herself, her kids, her spouse, her parents)
  • Entering Retirement
  • Chronic Condition (perhaps managing diabetes)
  • Sudden Acute Care (perhaps cancer)

Each are approaching healthcare decisions in very different ways. When they come to your website, app or campaign, they have specific needs for information, the tone in which it’s delivered, and how steps in their journey are connected.

How many healthcare personas should I create?

Generally, three to six healthcare personas work best, never more than eight. If less than three, you’re probably missing key audiences. If more than eight, it’s too many to handle – you’ll stop bonding with each as an individual, and start trying to meet too many needs at once.

How do I build a healthcare persona?

Personas require both quantitative and qualitative data. Quantitative data – market research, buyer and usage trends, web or campaign analytics – verify the types of actions your personas take. But it’s the qualitative data – stakeholder interviews with people who represent the persona or staff who regularly interact with patients across their journey – that help you paint the human side of the persona. Discover and describe your persona’s motivators, healthcare goals, pain points, communication needs, and journey. Uncover the healthcare experience from the point of view of your persona.

Who should use a healthcare persona?

Personas generally originate with marketing because that group owns “voice of the consumer.” But ideally, every person in your organization will champion your healthcare personas.

At their core, personas should inform branding, design, content, and business requirements for any new digital application. But healthcare personas also can impact clinical operations (ex: how different clinical steps are connected), clinical tools (ex: virtual care interfaces) and clinical communications (ex: discharge instructions). When different groups are at odds about next steps, all involved should take a step back and ask: What does [insert name of persona here] need? And let that guide the conversation.

What is the ROI on building healthcare personas?

Personas often get skipped because doing them well takes time and budget. But whether you measure ROI financially (increased patient volume and retention) or by quality (better health outcomes), consider this: If you build products or generate content that doesn’t resonate, your healthcare consumers won’t respond. How much will you lose if you DON’T build personas and build for your true audience?

How often should our team rebuild our healthcare personas?

Once your personas come alive as real people, and you build around them and test according to their needs, you’ll start to notice if they no longer match the people they’re meant to represent. Young unengaged millennials will grow up and start to raise families, and the next generation may behave differently. As people with chronic conditions gain tools that better meet their needs, their concerns may change. You may notice new key audiences that aren’t being adequately represented.

How will you know? Because you get feedback regularly from clinical partners, contact us forms, patient-family advisories, user testing with patients, and more. And you will use that feedback to continually evaluate your audience and their needs.

Any final words about healthcare UX personas?

It’s possible for internal teams to build their own personas. But partnering with an outside group helps ensure your personas aren’t conceived through an internal lens or colored with internal biases. Our healthcare strategists have years of practice in building surveys and interviewing stakeholders in a way that brings to light key nuances, without leading stakeholders in any specific direction.

Also, the words “patient” and “healthcare consumer” are often used interchangeably, but they’re not the same. Find out the difference between patient versus healthcare consumer.

Get started!

Are you ready to create a truly consumer-focused experience that delights your audience and encourages them to take next steps to improve their health? Then it’s time to build your healthcare UX personas. Understand your audience’s concerns and expectations. And get the foundation you need to build websites, apps and campaigns that inspire your audience to finally pay more attention.

About the Author

Linda is a healthcare digital strategy leader with 20 years of progressive experience in guiding diverse health system teams to develop and execute digital experiences and infrastructures. She is passionate about improving healthcare consumer experience, while also ensuring business ROI, to help health systems expand on their broader missions to improve their communities' health and well-being.

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