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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.

Why Should I Build Healthcare Personas?

Personas help you discover, focus on, and showcase your audience’s motivations, challenges, concerns, and behaviors. Personas highlight the decisions consumers make so that you can build structures, processes, designs, and content that resonates with them.

Healthcare personas 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-in to 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 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 emotionally ready to do so

Without meaning to or realizing that you’re doing it, you begin to build and design and write for yourself, not your audience.

What’s the Difference Between Marketing Personas and User Experience (UX) Personas?

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

Marketing personas define broad audience demographics of who to target, their affinities, and one key message that might resonate. They’re useful when buying an email list or building a large, targeted campaign. But you don’t connect with demographics, you 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.

Here are a couple examples:

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

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

SEE ALSO: Experience Design for the Patient Journey

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 like primary care, ortho, heart, or cancer, but it’s often better to consider the human first. For example:

  • Unengaged young millennial
  • 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 of these personas is 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 provided, and how steps in their journey are connected.

How Many Healthcare Personas Should I Create?

Generally, three to six healthcare personas work best. Never create more than eight. If you build fewer than three, you’re probably missing key audiences; more than eight is too many to handle and 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 is market research, buyer and usage trends, and web or campaign analytics. This data verifies the types of actions your personas take. But it’s the qualitative data such as stakeholder interviews with people who represent the persona or staff who regularly interact with patients across their journey – that helps you paint the human side of the persona. Discover and describe your persona’s motivators, healthcare goals, pain points, communication needs, and journey to 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 its core, a persona should inform branding, design, content, and business requirements for any new digital application. But healthcare personas also can impact clinical operations (e.g., how different clinical steps are connected), clinical tools (e.g., virtual care interfaces) and clinical communications (e.g., discharge instructions). When different groups are at odds about next steps, all involved should take a step back and ask, “What does [persona name] need?” and let the answer guide the conversation.

What’s the Value of Building Personas?

Personas often get skipped because it takes time and money to do them well. 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.

Personas drive consumer experience and inform projects to make them more successful. How much will you lose if you don’t build personas 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 begin 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 subsequently may behave differently. As people with chronic conditions gain tools that better meet their needs, their concerns may change. You may even 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.

Lift Your Consumer Experiences by Building Personas

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

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 to understand your audience’s concerns and expectations, and get the foundation you need to build websites, apps, campaigns, and journeys that inspire your audience to finally pay more attention. We can help you jump start your progress.

Gain step-by-step guidance to increase patient satisfaction, loyalty, and retention with well-executed personas and journey maps through our interactive guide

GET THE GUIDE: Personas & Journey Maps: The Definitive How-To Guide for Healthcare Providers

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Linda Watts

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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