Helping people stay informed about family members in surgery. Family members oftentimes go through the experience of waiting on a loved one in surgery with little to no information to ground them. We created an app that helps those waiting by keeping them up-to-date on any surgery status changes and allowing them to feel the support of close friends and family.

I was the designer for this project done at CMU / Teletracking in 2014.


In the health insurance industry today, hospitals rely on high results from customer satisfaction surveys to receive portions of their insurance reimbursements. Studies indicate that one way to make patients happy is by making their family members happy — those who lived through the experience with them. Teletracking, a healthcare operations company, asked us to create an app for patients’ families. This app would keep family members waiting for loved ones in surgery up-to-date about their status, thus reducing anxiety and increasing satisfaction ratings.

Research, Analysis, and Synthesis

An elderly woman waits at the hospital for her husband. He was transferred to the hospital from another one more than an hour away. He has congestive heart failure and may need an amputation, but she isn’t sure when it will happen. She’s sitting alone in a waiting room in a strange city, eating vending machine snacks for lunch, waiting to hear more information and hoping to see her husband.

This is one of many the stories we heard when we were sitting in waiting rooms, interviewing family members. It’s a deeply familiar story to many, and it repeats itself often. Families in a waiting room cling to tidbits of information about their loved one, sitting for hours in a room that often doesn’t see the light of day. A screen hung on the wall shows the “status” of their loved one, written in hospital jargon that has to be interpreted by a desk attendant. They anxiously remain in the room, too afraid to leave for lunch or a bathroom break for fear they will miss the information they so desperately need.

An image taken during our observations in waiting rooms.

We discovered this emotional journey through our many research methods, which ranged from interviews with families to written surveys and diaries recording how people felt while they waited. We pinpointed families’ most sought-after information through card sorting activities. We analyzed those screens hung on the wall to see how understandable they were to those they were meant to inform.

Our survey, card sorting, and diary artifacts.

We spent about a month just hanging out in waiting rooms gathering this research. With all this data, we formed an affinity diagram and pulled out four key findings.

An image of our affinity diagram created from our data points.

Visioning and Prototyping

These findings were used to vision a new ideal for families. We created storyboards for different technologies that could be designed to better help those waiting. We landed on a few primary ideas, all which could be served within a mobile app. With the app, families would receive regular updates about their family member, in real time. They would be notified about any change in status. Also within the app, family members could review information about the doctors and nurses caring for their relative. One main research finding was that family members were not taking care of themselves while waiting, so we envisioned a system through which other family members could support the primary caretakers during the ordeal. They could send them a gift of a meal in the cafeteria, for example, or a coffee from the coffee shop on the hospital campus. The app also suggests other places to wait on the hospital campus besides the sterile waiting room with no windows.

An overview of our entire design process.

Ultimately, we went through 6 iterations of interfaces and user tests in waiting rooms to arrive at a final solution. We storyboarded initial ideas and validated them with desk attendants to determine their feasibility. Some of the ideas fell through, such as a voting system for the waiting room TV channel; desk attendants felt it would create too much conflict in the waiting room. We created a paper prototype to test our app, which, much to our surprise, did not work. People weren’t able to think of the paper as if it were a screen; many said they just didn’t get it.

Me working with the paper prototype during our user test.

We then created digital walkthroughs to find usability issues in our information structure, and continued a cycle of user testing and updating for four more rounds before the end of the project. I am unable to go into more detail about the app, however some samplings of the mobile app can be seen below.

Some mid-fi screens that I created in Balsamiq during the middle of our project.
Some high-fi screens I and my teammate created in Illustrator as the final iteration of our project.

My Role

The members of the team were Sabrina Li, John Przyborski, Maya Kreidieh, and Nissa Nishiyama, and me, Julie Eckstrom.

As a team, we collaborated with determining the research methods we’d use to gather information, analyzing the results of that research, ideating, testing and reviewing designs. I contacted hospitals to get permission to do our research and created the research artifacts. I also created created presentations and designed the 121-page report to present our research findings. I was the interaction and co-visual designer on Touchpoint, where I created wireframes in Balsamiq and mockups in Illustrator.