Performing user research during the COVID-19 pandemic

Loïs Warner
Feb 11 · 5 min read

How cross-team collaboration enabled overcoming the impact of the pandemic on user research

At Doctolib, we build our products and tools for and with our customers. What does that mean concretely? The user research team is continuously growing and currently composed of 7 members split between France and Germany and engages with Doctolib’s users on a daily basis to perform research globally. As part of the product design process, the goal of such exchanges is to uncover compelling insights about the needs and pains of our customers. In turn, our designers and product managers use these inputs to shape the best possible user experience, always aiming at improving the working conditions of our healthcare professionals.

In 2020, while the terrible covid-19 pandemic turned the organisation of healthcare upside down and projected its professionals to the front line to fight against the corona-virus, the user research team completed over 300 requests for studies.

But wait… how do you talk to healthcare professionals in a context of utterly strict hygienic protocols and unprecedented work pressure for the medical sector?

Let me draw an overview of the main challenges and best-practices extracted from a year of experiencing and adjusting.

The golden rule of User Research: the 3Rs

Quoting Michael Summers, “doing research the wrong way is worse than not doing research at all”. In our daily work, user researchers follow a rigorous process that enables them to choose the best approach to get valuable insights on a problem. The 3Rs stand for:

The Right Questions

The Right Methods

The Right Participants

How does our golden rule look like in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic?

The Right Questions: considering the impact of COVID-19 in the workflows of our customers

Amongst the hospitals using Doctolib agendas in France and Germany, 55% of the calendars currently offline which were at least once online, were put offline during the first lockdown (from March to May 2020).

Such an observation produced by our data analysts hints that Doctolib’s tools are not totally appropriate to the hospitals while they need to mobilize themselves against the pandemic and manage the patients’ carepath ad-hoc. This raises a set of questions: will all the agendas be put back online after the lockdown? Is it worth a research deep-dive or is it only a temporary effect that is not worth a closer look?

As a result, user researchers need to constantly take into account the restrictions affecting healthcare organisations. The requests for research also accelerated during Corona as Doctolib’s products are optimization tools whose usage needs to adapt to some unpredictable aspects of the pandemic to keep on supporting the healthcare professional during the public health crisis.

The Right Methods: relying on digital tools and performing remote research

Based on the right research questions, researchers choose the methodology that will provide them with appropriate data. As shown in the graph, it is defined by 2 major dimensions depending on where the research goal lays:

  1. Is the goal to understand the reasons or cognitive processes underlying some observation — the why and the how — or is a quantitative assessment needed — the how many ?
  2. Is the goal to know more about what customers think (attitudinal) or what they do (behavioural)?

The right method is pointed out by this reasoning.

In the case of the hospitals mentioned earlier, we needed to inquire about the reason why the agendas were removed from the online booking during the lockdown. This was a why. We wanted to hear the reasons from the professionals who configure the tool (attitudinal) so we performed interviews.

Besides, being a cross-country team split between France and Germany, working remotely was already quite familiar. With the pandemic, we now rely on digital tools also to perform research and had to leave behavioural qualitative studies aside — such as field studies or contextual inquiries — that cannot be performed remotely.

The Right Participant: recruiting healthcare practitioners in an extremely critical context

Based on the methodology, a minimum number of participants is required in order for the research outputs to be usable. For user interviews, we work with a minimum sample of 5 persons. In the case of the hospital study, we needed to talk to doctors, IT administrators and secretaries. This means that we needed to recruit 5 professionals per group, that is 15 participants for France and 15 for Germany, so 30 persons as a whole. We then identified which insights were global or country specific.

Intensified cross-department team work enabled to counter the hindering effect of COVID-19

By affecting the way that Doctolib’s customers work, the pandemic puts user research even more at the forefront of product development by intensifying the need for understanding the impact of the new context on our tools. Building our service with healthcare professionals is the only way to serve them by shaping tools that really solve their problems. We observe the sequence of facts below, bound by causal links:

Considering this context, the user researchers extended recruiting time in their planning and used more conservative delivery deadlines for the studies.

Making sure that participants vary from one study to the other is also fundamental to prevent bias. So several departments at Doctolib joined forces — customer engagement, product strategy, sales, marketing — to identify the practitioners who are willing to co-build Doctolib’s future services.

Besides, the Doctolib Community already enables healthcare professionals to exchange with their peers and co-create Doctolib’s next functionalities. As a further step, the Community is now hosting a programme that puts long-term partnerships with such professionals in place. We proudly call them Pioneers.

We could never express too much gratitude to all the professionals who have been contributing to improving our service by participating in our user research projects. Thanks for supporting us in building the best possible tools to serve the healthcare sector!

You are a practitioner and you wish to shape the future of Doctolib with us? Here is where you can join our Doctolib Community in Germany and Doctolib Community in France.

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Doctolib

Improving Healthcare for Good

Doctolib

Founded in 2013, Doctolib is the fastest growing e-health service in Europe. We provide healthcare professionals with services to improve the efficiency of their organization, transform their patients’ experience, and strengthen cooperation with other practitioners. We help pati

Loïs Warner

Written by

User researcher, passionate about cultural diversity and how technology improves human lives.

Doctolib

Founded in 2013, Doctolib is the fastest growing e-health service in Europe. We provide healthcare professionals with services to improve the efficiency of their organization, transform their patients’ experience, and strengthen cooperation with other practitioners. We help pati

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