The Design of COVID Testing in NYC
Like everyone in the world right now, I am a person who is navigating the new normal of the CoronaVirus. I live in New York City, where (until a few recent hotspots have popped up) our positive test rate was hovering around 1%. When our lockdown/pause of the city began and our rates were much much higher, I spent 110% of my time in my apartment with my partner and our cat, but as rates lowered and temperatures started to rise, I began to think about how I might safely start to navigate the outside world. The best defense we have other than our masks right now is regular, quick testing, and New York City has been doing it’s best to make sure that it is accessible and easy!
My first testing experience was less than stellar. With social distancing, the City MD that I went to was only allowing a few people in the waiting room at a time, so the line to get in was wrapped around the block. Standing outside waiting for around 2 hours before even being let indoors in the middle of summer was not my favorite. City MD has generally been my go-to for a doctor in the past. I didn’t want to take the time to find a PCP and honestly I was only going for strep tests, so I thought it would be my easiest option. I also had a location 4 blocks away, so I didn’t need to worry about a subway or a cab to get there. The entire experience was very organized. Once I finally got inside to the sweet, sweet air conditioning, I was checked in via a kiosk as usual, and took the nearest (distanced) seat until my name was called. Once in a room (another 30-40 minutes later) I spoke to a PA who checked in with me about symptoms and if I wanted an antibody test as well (I didn’t), and then a very brusk, probably overworked, doctor came in in full PPE to swab me. I left with 20 fewer brain cells than I walked in with, and was told that my results would be delayed for around 7 days. I could go on about how that time frame doesn’t help much for people to isolate until they get their results (mine took over 14 days in the end, negative) but I want to take a look at the experience I had as a customer compared to the one I had this morning.
The NYC Health & Hospitals pop up texting center was *chefs kiss* in comparison. While a little further away, it was a beautiful morning for a 10 minute bike ride to the easy to find and incredibly well labeled location. While they were set up for long lines with a row of stanchions down the path next to the building, I quickly was directed in and asked to show my ID at the door, handed a clipboard of paperwork to fill out, and asked to sit in a one of the spaced out chairs in the lobby. The cheerful person handing me my clipboard wouldn’t let me stand up without tying my shoe because she was worried about me tripping, which was also very nice. I was moved following some arrow stickers on the floor to a table decorated with balloons and streamers to sign up for a MyChart account where I will get my results and got to talk about Halloween with the lovely ladies walking me through the sign up process (side note: good onboarding MyChart! Boring, but easy to follow and use). They then walked me through to a maze of different small offices and handed me off to the doctor who was very nice and did a shorter swab on the lower part of my nose. I was in and out in 30 minutes with all the brain cells I walked in with!
Now what about that experience was better than my first at the City MD? If we take the waiting and my discomfort of getting a qtip shoved up my nose out of it since that feels unfair, my experience at Health & Hospitals was still miles better! My experience not only weighed on the comfort of the test, but by the way I was treated while in the building. The general positive nature of the staff at H&H made the entire time I was there feel so much better than annoyed desk staff and brusk cold doctors.
But how can I translate this into UX? I thought about the onboarding to MyChart: simple, easy, a little boring, but clinically clean and organized. During my time in events, I spent hours thinking about how people would be directed through a space. I never wanted there to be a moment where a guest felt lost or shoved along roughly to the next room. The organization of any experience should leave the user satisfied and content. An extended, frustrating, cold product will only be used reluctantly if absolutely necessary, shouldn’t we try and improve the experience of something that should be done frequently? I think about apps and services I use because I have to: simple booking apps for appointments, websites that don’t translate well to mobile, difficult checkout experiences, all things I’m going to use regardless of enjoyment but I will complain about them. I am significantly more likely to try and find a better, more enjoyable way to avoid the bad design. Taking the time to invest in a well thought out and tested user flow pays off with leaps and bounds in user enjoyment and will increase return as well! My City MD experience felt like a beta version of covid testing, thankfully Health & Hospitals did some UX updates to make their product much nicer and more enjoyable, something I will continue to use with much fewer complaints.