We might like to shop around for the latest running shoes, but we’re not accustomed to shopping for a MRI when we get injured. And we might seek out the doctor with the best reputation, but we rarely call up doctors and ask how much they charge. Even if we did, how would we know if it was a good price?

These are some of the issues we wrestled with when working on a new product for our client, WellMatch. Our goal was to provide an intuitive online shopping experience for healthcare that let people see both quality and costs.

Changes in healthcare

Shopping for healthcare is new for many of us, and is often complicated by feelings of frustration, anxiety, and confusion. But as our healthcare system changes with rising costs and new legislation, people’s behaviors will need to change as well.

Many companies are moving to a different model for employee health insurance. Some require employees to pay more for their care until they’ve spent a certain amount “out-of-pocket.” The rationale behind these new models are that people will shop for the best care at the best price, and this will cut costs for everyone. In designing WellMatch, the challenge was determining how to empower and enable people to adopt a behavior that is at once foreign, and of huge potential value to them.

Product design based on behavior design

We teamed up with a behavior designer, Dr. Steph Habif, who has been working with the Stanford Behavior Design Lab to study the use of technology in changing people’s behavior. Steph’s team has a number of tools to help think about behavior, as well as deep research into what works to change behavior. It was a great complement to our usual UX toolkit. The key behavior design tool is this formula:

behavior = motivation + ability + trigger

Simply put, behavior happens when three factors converge at the same time: motivation to do the behavior, an ability to do the behavior, and a trigger to prompt the behavior. We’ll delve into each as they related to shopping for healthcare with Wellmatch.


One of the first questions we had was whether people would have any motivation to shop for healthcare. We knew that they would benefit from shopping around if they indeed needed to pay out-of-pocket, but was this something they would do after decades of not thinking about prices at all? Our researchers devised a one-page paper test (a technique nicknamed a “crummy trial”) to see if people would consider costs when choosing a doctor. It was a simple list of doctors with a star rating, a distance, and a cost. We targeted test subjects without insurance since they would be cost-sensitive, but we also talked to people with insurance to get a full picture of the current behavior. We were able to quickly get insights into how people thought about choosing a provider. We discovered that in certain situations they would consider costs–and that seeing the costs almost always made them consider a lower cost provider.


Julie Kim doing a crummy trial

This insight led to one of the most significant product design decisions: costs are shown as part of the process of finding a provider. We didn’t hide costs behind an “estimator.” Instead, we allow people pick a procedure to price when they are looking for a provider. This allowed us to almost always show how costs vary. For example, a user might choose to see the price for an “office visit” while searching for a new dermatologist. Wellmatch customers could see that one doctor charged $112 for a visit while another, with a similar star rating, charged $300.

+ Ability

Seeing prices makes a customer able to shop for healthcare. Ability is the second part of the formula “behavior = motivation + ability + trigger.” In addition to showing prices, we optimized for customers’ ability to complete tasks and radically simplified the product. According to BJ Fogg, who heads the Persuasive Technology Lab, “Simplicity matters more than motivation.” If a customer doesn’t have the ability or can’t do a behavior, it doesn’t matter how motivated they are.  We simplified the flow for finding a provider by using a “smart search” and by incorporating social recommendations.

We also addressed the ability of the customer by designing a product that would work on multiple devices at home, at work, and at a doctor’s office. We used a responsive design approach so we only needed to build the product once, while still giving them access on a desktop, tablet, and mobile phone.

+ Trigger

The last part of the formula, the trigger, is the part that prompts the behavior. This is the most important part of the design to get right. The trigger says, “Do this now.” While some of these triggers will happen outside of the product with a rollout campaign and an engagement strategy, we were able to put some triggers in the product. We leveraged the existing behavior of finding a doctor to suggest (trigger) the idea that a customer could also “price a procedure.”

We also strongly advocated for adding a link to the product from existing intranets, so customers would be reminded (triggered) to use the product while doing other HR tasks. Of course the biggest trigger to consider costs when choosing a provider was simply to show the costs by default. Seeing costs triggers our primary behavioral goal:  to consider cost when choosing a provider.

The product is due out in May. Once launched, WellMatch will gather data to see how the product reduces costs for its customers. We’ll be able to see if our design changes behavior, and how, so we can continue making improvements. Here’s a video that shows our work.


Introducing WellMatch: A Simple Way To Shop for Care from WellMatch on Vimeo.