Testing Two Online Symptom Checkers With Vulnerable Groups: Usability Study to Improve Cognitive Accessibility of eHealth Services

Kaisa Savolainen*, Sari Kujala

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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Abstract

Background: The popularity of eHealth services has surged significantly, underscoring the importance of ensuring their usability and accessibility for users with diverse needs, characteristics, and capabilities. These services can pose cognitive demands, especially for individuals who are unwell, fatigued, or experiencing distress. Additionally, numerous potentially vulnerable groups, including older adults, are susceptible to digital exclusion and may encounter cognitive limitations related to perception, attention, memory, and language comprehension. Regrettably, many studies overlook the preferences and needs of user groups likely to encounter challenges associated with these cognitive aspects.

Objective: This study primarily aims to gain a deeper understanding of cognitive accessibility in the practical context of eHealth services. Additionally, we aimed to identify the specific challenges that vulnerable groups encounter when using eHealth services and determine key considerations for testing these services with such groups.

Methods: As a case study of eHealth services, we conducted qualitative usability testing on 2 online symptom checkers used in Finnish public primary care. A total of 13 participants from 3 distinct groups participated in the study: older adults, individuals with mild intellectual disabilities, and nonnative Finnish speakers. The primary research methods used were the thinking-aloud method, questionnaires, and semistructured interviews.

Results: We found that potentially vulnerable groups encountered numerous issues with the tested services, with similar problems observed across all 3 groups. Specifically, clarity and the use of terminology posed significant challenges. The services overwhelmed users with excessive information and choices, while the terminology consisted of numerous complex medical terms that were difficult to understand. When conducting tests with vulnerable groups, it is crucial to carefully plan the sessions to avoid being overly lengthy, as these users often require more time to complete tasks. Additionally, testing with vulnerable groups proved to be quite efficient, with results likely to benefit a wider audience as well.

Conclusions: Based on the findings of this study, it is evident that older adults, individuals with mild intellectual disability, and nonnative speakers may encounter cognitive challenges when using eHealth services, which can impede or slow down their use and make the services more difficult to navigate. In the worst-case scenario, these challenges may lead to errors in using the services. We recommend expanding the scope of testing to include a broader range of eHealth services with vulnerable groups, incorporating users with diverse characteristics and capabilities who are likely to encounter difficulties in cognitive accessibility.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere45275
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalJMIR Human Factors
Volume11
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2024
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Keywords

  • cognitive accessibility
  • eHealth
  • online symptom checkers
  • qualitative research
  • usability
  • web accessibility

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