Helping health coaches help patients

A case study on using observations when designing in healthcare


I worked as a UX designer for a company that created cloud-based software with the goal of helping health coaches deliver clinically-approved content to people participating in a wellness program. Although the UX team conducted weekly usability tests with health coaches to test new features, we needed more information on how users interacted with the suite of products. Four product managers and I were selected to visit two coaching centers to observe user workflows and pain points.


Contextual inquiry
User interviews
Participatory design
User surveys
High-fidelity prototypes (html/css/js)
Usability testing


First off, since we would be broken up into two sites across two time zones, I knew standardized data-collection would be important for data analysis. I created a wiki page and held a kick-off meeting to discuss best practices when conducting contextual inquiry and when interviewing users, since the rest of the team were product managers who did not have experience with user research. I also created interview scripts and a common note-taking method that would help streamline the process of analyzing results.

Contextual inquiry

Once onsite, we observed the health coaches in their calls with participants, and noted their process from how they prepare for a call (what documents they refer to, what programs they prep on their screen), their process during a call and any difficulties they faced, and their documentation after a call. We then asked follow-up questions and noted any outside tools they used, and also any documentation they kept outside of the software.

Design workshop

In order to understand to better understand user needs, I conducted a design workshop with the coaches, where I asked them to create an empathy map of wellness program participants, and then another empathy map of a hypothetical coach persona. I chose an empathy map because I wanted to be able to bring back to the team a more contextual and complete picture of our users: what they saw, heard, felt in their work, as well as what they struggled with and what they considered to be ‘wins’. The product team also did not have direct access to the wellness program participants, and the coaches were the most knowledgeable and our best bet at getting a more complete picture of participant characteristics.

Through the empathy mapping exercise I learned of the competing pressures that coaches felt throughout their day. For example, by protocol they were expected to deliver clinically approved content according to script, but in order to keep participants engaged they often needed to improvise. Also, many of them had chosen to work in the wellness profession out of a sincere desire to help others, so at times it was painful when participants seemed distant or only interested in earning reward points.

Journey map sketches

I also asked the coaches to visually depict their workflows in a journey map, which helped me see what they considered to be their major pain points. Some common sources of anxiety were having to reschedule participants (which often required an extensive amount of maneuvering with the scheduling software) and network connectivity.


Lastly, I sent a follow-up survey to coaches to help the team understand their demographics and also see what users personally thought were the most severe issues with the software. By triangulating our data methods (observations, in-person workshop, anonymous survey), we could validate our findings and see what users personally thought of as the most severe issues with the software, versus what we had observed.


After the trip, I analyzed the data we had collected by sorting and comparing the various responses we had received for common questions and tasks. I color-coded responses so that it was easy to see which areas users had significant issues (orange), where they struggled but were able to complete their tasks (yellow) and positive feedback or successes (green).


Based on the quotes we had collected during contextual inquiry and from the empathy map workshops, I created user personas of coaches and participants. The goal of the personas were to succinctly capture the main defining characteristics of the coaches and their usual daily workflows.

User workflows

I documented the coaches’ workflow during a typical session, so that we could easily see their process and the time it took for each major step.

Pain points

To better illustrate the pain points in a typical user’s workflow, I visualized the different programs used by the coaches (vertical axis) as they went through a typical workflow (horizontal axis).


1. Getting the system stable and free of workarounds is a high priority.

Lack of system reliability means coaches have difficulty trusting the system and have to rely heavily on outside documentation to complete their tasks.

  • Coaches summarize notes in a final notes page (whether completing script documentation or not) and copy/paste into spreadsheet or other tool to use during times system is down.
  • Coaches are hesitant to explore new functionality outside of their learned workflows.

2. Workflow of reviewing status, call execution and documentation needs to be more efficient so that coaches can handle heavier call volumes and participant data is more easily trackable.

  • Coaches need to quickly access a complete view of a participant’s information before, during and after a call — they currently maintain separate documentation to keep track of participant information.
  • Many coaches are writing notes free text in the final notes page, instead of inline within call scripts, leading to potential loss/inefficiencies of trackable data for client companies. Integration between the various applications will help reduce time spent switching between applications or re-entering data.

3. The redesign of calendar/scheduling needs to be prioritized: scheduling calls and setting up the calendar takes up a significant portion of coaches’ time and was a common complaint in interviews.

  • Lack of system notifications for important events such as a participant schedule change means that coaches have to keep computers nearby at all times (even on weekends).

What I learned

Because a UX designer’s within the company was more UI-focused rather than strategic, I learned that I needed to be extremely tactful with design recommendations. For example, when I presented how users had to create workarounds, I was surprised to see users being blamed for using the software ‘the wrong way’.


Based on our findings, I restructured the information architecture of the site, focusing on reducing the coaches’ need of outside documentation, and on better supporting larger call volumes by streamlining communication via notes and reducing number of steps in viewing participant information.

User Experience Designer