UX for Precision Medicine

For the first time UX was on the agenda at a precision medicine conference

User experience design is about understanding people. It involves techniques to gain empathy and to use this insight to design products that directly meet the goals of users. As UX designer myself, I am of the strong opinion that a talk about UX should be on every conference agenda. But it’s absolutely essential to be included when the core subject of the event is complex software and big data. Hence, I was very happy to be invited to speak about UX at the World Precision Medicine Congress in London last week.


The event was held in the Business Design Centre near Kings Cross.

London's Business Design Centre was the venue for the Precision Medicine World Congress 2018
London’s Business Design Centre was the venue for the Precision Medicine World Congress 2018

My talk explained why UX is needed & how UX can deliver value in precision medicine

The title of the talk was “Advancing drug discovery and gaining competitive advantage through user experience”.

My aim was to convince the diverse audience that UX is not just a nice-to-have, rather it is essential for products and services to succeed in this complex field. I also planned to show how delegates could easily get onboard with UX by exploiting the free UX toolkit for life science, which I have contributed to through the Pistoia Alliance UXLS project.

Precision medicine, like UX, is multidisciplinary

Precision medicine is difficult to define, but essentially it is about delivering truly tailored therapies to individual patient types using integration of big data, care records, health metrics, environmental factors, etc. To realise its vision, people from many different disciplines need to come together, including those working in:

  • pharmaceutical R&D/ drug discovery
  • the NHS
  • big data tech companies like IBM
  • clinical research
  • academia
  • funders such as venture capitalists, private equity firms, public funding bodies (like the European Commission) and research councils
  • regulators
  • biobanks
  • software companies
  • …and others

UX research will help companies understand how people will interact with new medical technology and devices

Precision medicine of the future will harness the power of the internet of things. Imagine a world where the devices and gadgets in the home or the clinic will be used to gather information about a patient and this will be integrated and visualised on phones, tablets or computers.

For this vision to be realised, the capabilities and motivations of patients will need to be investigated and modelled to map out how and when they will interact with these products and services. For example, where will the touchpoints with devices occur during their day? Will these be digital services or physical devices? What will prompt people to use them? What will encourage them to use them? What mechanisms will be applied to reduce errors in data capture? How will multiple data sources be seamlessly integrated?

I would argue that UX research methods, such as ethnography (observation) will be needed to design effective products for customers/ patients in this space. And thoughtful design will be a prerequisite in order to present and visualise data in intuitive ways. Especially since the existing level of experience patients have with digital devices may be very low; some virtual ‘hand-holding’ through new systems will no doubt be required.

A call to action: diagnose your UX needs and treat immediately with the free UX toolkit

In the talk, I mentioned a way for the audience to measure, and then boost, their organisation’s UX know-how. I suggested they diagnose their UX status using this free UX capabilities assessment [PDF], and then seek immediate treatment via the new and free-to-use UX Toolkit for Life Sciences (uxls.org).
I also referred the audience to my recent article “UX Design maximising the value of scientific software in life science R&D” so they could find out more about the inner workings of UX teams in biopharma companies; information which would otherwise be difficult to uncover.

Success stories of UX in life science companies

To finish I suggested that the audience read the compelling case studies of UX design at uxls.org. These stories, from companies such as Amgen, Novartis, AZ, Linguamatics and others, demonstrate concrete examples of previous UX success in life science environments. What more evidence could you need to get onboard with UX? It is an essential enabler for the precision medicine care of the future.


I thank the organisers for inviting me to speak (Joan Shutt and Edward Granville of Terrapinn), and the audience for their keen attention. Please get in touch with your comments @jennifercham

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