Personalization in Healthcare

Personalization in healthcare is one of the most important areas a UX person can focus. Why? It’s possible that healthcare is both the area where we are the most the same, and the most different. Everyone has a pulse. But each pulse beats at a slightly different rate. What’s more, while a lower pulse is typically healthier, low can mean different things for different people.

Things get even more complicated when we talk about organs, muscles, bones, and illness. We are dramatically different, and the idea of a one-size-fits-all approach to healthcare is impractical.

What does personalization in healthcare look like?

Personalization can take on many different forms. At its most simplistic, personalization can be static content that acknowledges the target user. Made slightly more complex, personalization is a form of dynamic content, substituting in information such as a person’s name, gender identity, or other information the person has previously provided. Going even further, targeted personalization can take passive information, such as location or integrated data (think Fitbit) and make recommendations.

In healthcare, personalization comes down to privacy and complexity. Why? Perhaps it’s simply because healthcare is both intensely private, and extremely complex.


When it comes to personalization in healthcare, privacy is a unique challenge. Think of the infamous story of a Target customer learning his daughter was pregnant in 2012. Target’s personalized advertisement resulted in a loss of privacy. Obviously a health organization – or even a health/consumer organization like Target – wants to make customers feel safe and secure. That means the organization needs to think about what they should do, rather than just what they can do. Sometimes this means that even if it sounds like a great idea to text “congratulations!” to a patient who has a negative test result, it may not be the ethical choice.

On the other side of the spectrum we have HIPAA policy. HIPAA is intended to protect patient privacy. However, HIPAA was first created in 1999, long before widespread use of Electronic Health Records (EHRs) or personalized online experiences. And so organizations are just as likely to be struggling with what they are allowed to do. Sometimes this means that even when a patient would prefer to get a clear text message confirming a negative test result, the provider must instead send a message along the lines of “you have a new message. Sign in at”

Every company should think about the ethics of their choices. Every regulated industry must think about the legal risk of their choices. With healthcare we must think about both.


The major benefit to personalization in healthcare is how well it can simplify our complex system. Between insurance networks, hospital systems, divergent pricing, and a lack of interoperability, the American healthcare system is anything but simple. It’s amazing that anyone can make an appointment, see their provider, pay their copay, and get the appropriate care they need (all without incurring additional costs). But for many people with chronic conditions and comorbidities it’s even worse.

This complexity is where personalization can do the most good. While many organizations dream big, there are many very small-scale improvements that would help people. For example, Castlight Health is a provider search that integrates with a company’s insurance, so that members don’t need to put in their insurance details to search for providers. The search only pulls up providers who are in-network. Simple? Yes. But necessary!

Best practices for personalization in healthcare

How can you use personalization to make healthcare better?

  • Connect your business goals and your personas. No organization will succeed if they don’t provide something that people actually need and want.
  • Keep it simple. As amazing as it would be to solve everything in healthcare, it’s too big for any one person to tackle.
  • Account for interoperability (and the lack thereof). Doctors switch hospitals, and patients move around, so a solution that can’t integrate won’t work.

There are a lot of opportunities for personalization in healthcare. Greeting a patient by name is the first step in building trust!

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