The process of creating an e-health app for cancer patients

1 Sep 2017
Radek Misiewicz

The process of creating an e-health app for cancer patients requires needs’ discovering of potential users – the real patients. We present the whole process that we went through to design new app.

The number of cancer patients is rising every year. In 2010, in Poland, 140 500 people were diagnosed. It’s the toughest challenge a human being may be faced with. These people, regardless of the exact diagnosis, have to handle a lot of challenges, regarding the emotional side of the disease and finding facts about it.

It was my job at The Story to find out what those challenges are and how we can help patients to deal with them.

number of cancer patients in poland



The task before me was daunting. I had to understand an experience that was completely alien to me. As a completely healthy designer, I had no frame of reference. And starting from that I had to find out:

  1. What’s the process for cancer treatment?
  2. From where do patients get their facts about the disease?
  3. How do patients know what to do next with their treatment?
  4. What structural problems do cancer patients have to face?

My experience in conducting “research” and “exploratory” workshops proved useful. These are meetings during which I gather knowledge about patients, business or potential users.

e-health app design process


You might ask — is it even worth designing solutions for cancer patients? There are actually some good arguments against it. First of all, cancer patients are mostly older people, between 60 and 80 years old. It’s not a group that’s generally interested in digital services. Secondly, can an app truly help an ill patient? Especially since they are facing one of the biggest challenges possible? How can an app help a cancer patient? All these questions made me more determined to consult this problem with someone who can fill me in.

Cooperation with Onkocafe Foundation

The composition of an exploratory workshop is the main factor of success. To gain the right information, it’s best to find people with different perspectives, job experience and convictions. I didn’t want to (at that point at least) meet with the patients. I felt I needed much better preparation for that kind of meeting. I can’t waste time or energy of terminally ill patients. I could only meet them once I had a prototype solution in my hand.

I asked specialists for help: psycho-oncologist Adrianna Sobol and the Onkocafe founder Anna Kupiecka. Both of them have huge experience in working with cancer patients. They both have participated in the therapeutic process. They have daily contact with ill people from different cities and social groups. They were a font of knowledge about the process that patients have to go through.

Anna Kupiecka and Adrianna Sobol, Onkocafe Foundation experts, help researchers learned about patients needs.

Anna Kupiecka and Adrianna Sobol, Onkocafe Foundation experts, help researchers learned about patients needs.

Workshops – process

Having laid my foundations, I set out to delineate three main goals of the workshop:

  • gaining knowledge
  • describing the therapeutic path of a patient
  • diagnosis of the problem

I first had to create so-called personas. They are personality models of potential users of our solution. Creating a persona helped us guide the workshop towards real possibilities, not a theoretical discussion.

To lay down the path, which each patient has to go through during their therapy, I used post-its and markers. Each phase took one post-it. Each color had its significance. During the following activities, having gained a certain empathy for the model users, together with my workshop participants, I marked:

  • the context for each therapy stage,
  • emotions, which the model users experience.

Zdjęcie przedstawia narzędzia używane podczas warsztatu

At the end of the first day of workshops, the participants could go home, but I had another task to do. The results need to be sorted, documented and understood.

The best method to understand large quantities of data is to play with it — creating so-called “disfluency”, or experimenting with information. It may take the form of sorting and categorizing, which help you understand facts. Thanks to those experiments, during the next workshop I became an active designer. There were still some holes in my knowledge, but I had a general understanding of the topic.

During the second workshop, I could finally answer the basic questions, which have been turning around in my head since the beginning. What’s the most important structural problem for patients? How do they gain knowledge about the therapy and the disease?

We also managed to answer a number of “tooling” questions: what value could encourage users to return to our e-health solutions? What amount of time can they dedicate to familiarizing themselves with them? How will they find out about them? Will the patients be our only users? What context can we imagine for using our e-health app — both daily and extreme?

Mapowanie etapów terapii pacjenta w procesie poszukiwanie potrzeby i projektowanie nowej aplikacji eHealth w onkologii

delineating subsequent phases of therapy

After the strategy was set out, I decided to take a risk and let the participants create a storyboard of the app as the final exercise. Eight screens that will help the patient solve their problem. The task was a moderate success. It’s very hard for people who never drew an app to suddenly switch to this mode of thinking. However, the sketches (or rather stories) created during the workshop proved invaluable during the process of creating app models.

Comparing two apps – concept test

During my work on the models, I ended up with two concepts for the app. One that was the result of the workshop, and another which was the idea of Dymitr — the CEO of The Story, who also took part in the workshop. Each one served a different need and user goal, each considered the patient’s emotions in a different way.

While testing early concepts, I wanted to check which app description makes a better impression on the users. Each user read the description (created according to AppStore specs). Then they could test the chosen app. The concepts were tested by 5 patients.

During my research, the real challenge proved to be keeping the testers’ attention focused on certain, pre-planned tasks, which describe the context of using the app. That’s why I decided to relate to something very close to the patients — memories of the treatment. Thanks to this open approach to testing, we managed to get additional information about individual patient stories.


By the end, one idea proved stronger emotionally, while the other was much more practical. However, patients indicated, that during oncological treatment, practicality is key. An app focused on particular activities is much more likely to succeed. Soon, we will be able to test the result of our work in the real world. Thanks to experiments and tests on a small group of app users, The Story should hopefully be able to help a large number of patients during the steep climb that is their treatment.

Read more about „disfluency” in “Smarter Faster Better” by Charles Duhigg.

Read more about organizing and conducting sprints or creative meetings in, among others, „Google Sprint”.

Related project: “One day in the life of a cancer patient”.