Communicating the effects of drugs
on the developing embryo

Role Interaction Designer
Duration February 2019 —ongoing
Clients RightAnswer & University of Washington Medical Center

Counseling pregnant women regarding the risks or safety of drug treatments is often complicated. There is a lack of information about the nature, magnitude, or even existence of a drug’s risk in humans. 60% of pregnant women take at least one medication during pregnancy. Therefore, pregnant women and their physicians are frequently concerned about the possibility that a treatment that may be needed to improve a woman’s health may harm her pregnancy. Sadly, roughly 40,000 infants are born each year in the US with birth defects directly attributed to medication exposure during prenatal development.

Experts from the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Washington constantly review and summarize scientific literature to build a database with reliable information regarding the effects of over 1700 drugs and chemicals on the developing embryo. The database is currently distributed globally by RightAnswer via a desktop experience. However, the information is most often useful in patient appointments or in-home visits, when clinicians may not have access to a desktop computer.


We ran surveys with Healthcare Providers to learn their goals, needs, and technology use habits. Based on findings from the survey, we created low-fidelity prototypes and used them in usability testing with 22 providers. User testing led to important insights, which were factored into the high-fidelity prototype presented in this case study. Hi-fi prototypes went through a second round of testing in August and September of 2019. The application will be launched on the App and Play stores until the end of the year.

Based on survey results we defined 2 main personas and 3 design scenarios that should be supported. The personas and scenarios were used to design the prototypes.

Scenario 1
Communicating risks accurately

Health providers want the right amount of information to estimate teratogenic risk. Compressing a large body of complex (and often conflicting) data for quick decision aid without sacrificing critical aspects was mandatory.

I soon discovered that designing drug risk information was beyond my ordinary knowledge on information visualization. An effective design could potentially save lives. I’d hear Uncle Ben telling me “with great power comes great responsibility.”

I turned to Tufte’s seminal book on Information Vizualization for insight. Reading this book is essential for anyone designing to display data.

See some of my first sketches for the risk visualizations below.

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information
Edward Tufte

As much as the ideas above seemed exciting, I needed expert advice to know if they were going in the right direction. Fortunately, the Division of Developmental Medicine at the University of Washington was available to provide feedback.

A big accomplishment I had in this project was developing a strong relationship with stakeholders. I’d meet with them weekly to touch base and discuss the designs, and constantly send them updates via email. My conversations with the medical experts made clear that the design had to accurately reflect:

9  risk levels
None, None to minimal, Minimal, Minimal to small, Small, Small to moderate, Moderat, Moderate to high, High

3 other classifications
Unlikely risk, Unknown risk, Multiple risks (Small risk or High risk depending on dosage, timing)

I noticed that the risk scale made the interface look crowded; also, colors didn’t help users differentiate risks when quickly scanning a list.

Focused on labels to define risks, with a simpler palette. Blue means “ok,” amber, “attention” and red, “careful!”

Finally, I removed the information on each agent to facilitate comparison of drug risks. I also tweaked the colors with help from color-blindness simulators.

Then, I designed the article pages. Each article has 4 main sections: Summary, Risks, Data, and References, where healthcare providers can learn all about the potential risks of drugs and chemicals. Below, see a prototype of an article on Cytarabine.

Subtle design elements can highlight important details, facilitating discoverability. Note the Animal Data section divider and reference key.

Scenario 2
Accessing information on-the-go

There is a need to quicken access and information consumption. We want to explore features that provide access to information when providers are on the go.

Time-constrained healthcare providers talked about using mobile apps as they moved between rooms at the hospital, as well as in home visits:
“I attend out of hospital births and in-home visits. Which is another reason why having many of these tools not on a laptop is helpful.”

Emphasis is on quickly accessing articles from multiple entry-points.

Below, see the main screen, which shows bookmarked articles.
The prototype shows the side menu design after a few seconds.

I designed a custom icon for the floating button pattern to make search prominent. It is placed on the bottom to facilitate tapping.

For the navigation, I turned from using mostly blue to an understated visual system largely based on using white.

The white navigation avoided conflicts with the color-coding created for risk visualizations.

I also proposed a feature to read articles to users.

This feature could make it easy for busy healthcare providers to obtain information on the go.

Scenario 3
Sharing, but not oversharing

Health providers want to inform their patients with appropriate resources. There is a need to build the ability to directly email or text pieces of information to patients, while protecting the privacy of both patient and provider.

Healthcare providers in our study mentioned the need of designing the app to help better explain risk to patients. In our
design, we have included handouts that providers can print out or directly send to patients. Obviously, this raises privacy concerns.

In the app, clinicians can review resources before sending them to patients. I also designed a secure sharing feature that protects users’ contact information. Resources will be sent to patients via an alias.


Establishing a good relationship with stakeholders

I see this as a key skill in the UX field, as UX professionals often have to integrate multiple perspectives. In this project, I moderated the goals of both medical experts from the University of Washington Medical Center and the Engineering team. Additionally, learning from stakeholders in this project was incredible. I had a chance to engage with world-renowned medical experts, , clinicians, and midwives, who dedicated their lives to improve population health. I am grateful for working in a project with such an amazing societal impact.

“This is the best risk visualization that I have ever seen!” Janine Polifka
Clinical teratology and teratogen risk communication expert.
Janine has authored over 60 scientific publications in these areas.

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