User Experience Research at SpendWell – My First 3 Months

Three months ago, I started a new job as user experience researcher at SpendWell Health, a start-up here in Portland, OR. SpendWell is building an online marketplace where people can purchase routine health care services directly from providers with upfront prices. Individuals with access to SpendWell as a benefit of their insurance plan can search for providers (e.g., physical therapist, dentist, optometrist, etc.) or services (e.g., eye exam, speech therapy, MRI, etc.), know exactly how much they’re going to pay, and purchase the service online. User accounts are integrated with health insurance plans and Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), so people know where they are at in their deductible and which services are covered (fully or partially) by their plan.

The opportunities for this kind of product are primarily market driven. The rate of people with high-deductible health care plans has greatly increased as companies look to offset health care costs and employees take on more of the financial responsibility. Additionally, the Affordable Care Act has increased the number of people with plans with deductibles. SpendWell’s plan is to be a resource for people to use in their health care decision making and planning. In theory, the prices for these services will be lower because of the price transparency model/open marketplace. It will also be a resource for health care providers to get new patients, recoup expenses more easily (because of the upfront pay), all while not having to deal with filing claims because SpendWell takes care of the insurance process altogether.

What My Role Involves

As a user experience researcher, I am part of both the UX team and the larger product development team. My main task is to plan, conduct and deliver research that will help improve people’s experiences with the site by informing design decisions and business strategy. As SpendWell’s only employee dedicated solely to research, I have taken on a lead role in the organization’s efforts. My day-to-day tasks involve attending meetings (design reviews, marketing, planning, sprint, etc.), talking with stakeholders, managing our participant database, recruiting participants, designing interview guides/usability test plans, facilitating research sessions, analyzing data, collaborating with designers on design recommendations, and getting their input on research materials. As an organizational resource, I interact with everyone at the company to one degree or another, including developers, designers, salespeople, customer service reps, the marketing manager, project managers, and business analysts.

As I indicated above, SpendWell has three key user groups to keep in mind: health care seekers, health care providers, and employers. My work involves doing research with all three groups to address usability, user experience, and the larger picture of needs, preferences and goals that shape people’s interactions with and expectations of the site. Much of the work I’ve done so far has been in the realm of usability testing to get the site ready for our launch, which just took place at the end of February.

Opportunities for Professional Growth

I really like my job a lot. The people I work with are passionate and dedicated, and there’s enough variety and a good balance of autonomy and collaboration in my day-to-day work. I have already had many opportunities to develop new competencies and gain experience in research and project management, and to learn from highly skilled designers and businesspeople. The best thing about it so far is that I’ve been able to help solve a bunch of real-world problems and have an immediate impact on the design of SpendWell through my research.

Here are the main things I’ve accomplished since I started:

  • Worked with the design lead to plan the first quarter of research for 2015 (goals, areas of focus, methods, budget, deliverables, participant criteria, etc.)
  • Co-conducted two rounds of research (interviews and usability tests.)
  • Collaborated with designers on data analysis, design recommendations and design prioritization.
  • Presented the results of the research to stakeholders.
  • Implemented a new participant recruiting process and database. (Our initial launch involves a pilot program with employees of SpendWell’s parent company, Cambia Health Solutions. Therefore, we have direct access for our research recruiting efforts, but we still have to keep track of it all. This also helps keep costs down for our start-up budgets.)
  • Successfully advocated management for an increase in the budget for research participant incentives ($15/hr to $30/hr.)
  • Engaged colleagues more directly in UX research and UX principles by engaging them in the process, not just presenting the results.
  • Advocated daily for users to keep our company focused on creating a product that will solve real problems and that people will love and use.

Building Bridges Through Stakeholder Research

Another thing I’ve done that has helped establish me as an active partner and collaborator among my colleagues is to schedule one-on-one conversations to get to know them, to understand their roles, perspectives, projects, goals, frustrations and challenges, and to answer any questions they have about me and my role. To quickly on-board and gain perspective, I’ve asked people what challenges they are grappling with in their work, what upcoming challenges they foresee at the company, and what open questions they have about users that I can address through research. To get an understanding of their expectations of me and their notion of the role of research in business, I’ve asked about their experiences working with researchers in the past and what I can do to be most helpful. What did the previous researcher do well that I could continue doing? What could I do differently? How can I be the best partner? This is the first time I’ve tried this strategy and it’s been extremely successful. I am in constant contact with my colleagues so I can stay aware of what’s going on across the company to design research projects that best meet everyone’s needs.

Research Next Steps

With the impending launch of our pilot, our research efforts have focused primarily on health care seekers’ interactions with and feedback on our site and concept. We plan to continue learning about them through in-depth interviews, and getting their feedback through iterative testing. The next few months of research will also focus on health care providers, including researching their workflows, tools, and processes to understand how SpendWell can supplement and complement the status quo, rather than disrupt it. We also plan to do testing on the provider-facing user experience of the site. We want to build on what we already know about providers, and answer our unanswered questions, to make it as valuable a tool as we can.

One thought on “User Experience Research at SpendWell – My First 3 Months

  1. Sounds like great work and a lot of fun. Your days sounds very similar to mine, though I work for an agency so my stakeholders change every few months as I transition through projects. I am interested to see how your roles and responsibilities morph as you gain deep experience in essentially one unending project.

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