Development and usability testing of a web-based cancer symptom and quality-of-life support intervention

Health Informatics J. 2015 Mar;21(1):10-23. doi: 10.1177/1460458213495744. Epub 2014 Jan 9.


The feasibility and acceptability of computerized screening and patient-reported outcome measures have been demonstrated in the literature. However, patient-centered management of health information entails two challenges: gathering and presenting data using "patient-tailored" methods and supporting "patient-control" of health information. The design and development of many symptom and quality-of-life information systems have not included opportunities for systematically collecting and analyzing user input. As part of a larger clinical trial, the Electronic Self-Report Assessment for Cancer-II project, participatory design approaches were used to build and test new features and interfaces for patient/caregiver users. The research questions centered on patient/caregiver preferences with regard to the following: (a) content, (b) user interface needs, (c) patient-oriented summary, and (d) patient-controlled sharing of information with family, caregivers, and clinicians. Mixed methods were used with an emphasis on qualitative approaches; focus groups and individual usability tests were the primary research methods. Focus group data were content analyzed, while individual usability sessions were assessed with both qualitative and quantitative methods. We identified 12 key patient/caregiver preferences through focus groups with 6 participants. We implemented seven of these preferences during the iterative design process. We deferred development for some of the preferences due to resource constraints. During individual usability testing (n = 8), we were able to identify 65 usability issues ranging from minor user confusion to critical errors that blocked task completion. The participatory development model that we used led to features and design revisions that were patient centered. We are currently evaluating new approaches for the application interface and for future research pathways. We encourage other researchers to adopt user-centered design approaches when building patient-centered technologies.

Keywords: IT design and development methodologies; consumer health information; decision-support systems; ehealth; evidence-based practice.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Computers / statistics & numerical data
  • Consumer Health Information*
  • Focus Groups
  • Humans
  • Internet*
  • Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Patient Education as Topic
  • Patient Outcome Assessment*
  • Quality of Life*
  • Research Design