A Cognitive Model Approach to Creating Usable Health Care Content


  • Kirk St.Amant Louisiana Tech University, Ruston, LA; University of Limerick, Limerick, Ireland




The ability to use information easily and effectively is essential to medical communication. Yet who uses medical information, when they use it, and how they use it has changed with the rise of personal medical technologies and increased reliance on telehealth practices. As a result, a range of nonmedical professionals now regularly engage in different health care activities. This situation represents a challenge medical writers must address to ensure the health and wellness of individuals who use their content. Meeting usability expectations involves understanding both the cognitive models writers use to create content and those that readers rely on when using content to achieve a health care objective. Such mental models, however, vary from audience to audience on the basis of experiences. As a result, medical writers need to understand what mental models entail in order to create materials that meet an audience’s usability expectations. This article provides medical writers with an overview of what these mental models encompass and how they affect an audience’s usability expectations. The article also presents a 5-step process medical writers can employ to identify and address such usability expectations when creating content for different groups. The related approach begins with researching and identifying the mental models upon which audiences base their usability expectations. The approach then focuses on applying the resulting findings to create draft content for the related audience. The approach then concludes with a process for testing (and revising, if needed) initial content via input from members of the related audience. Through this process, medical writers can more effectively identify and meet an audience’s usability expectations when creating medical content. Usability—the ability to use items easily and effectively—has long been important to medical communication. The role of usability in health and medicine, however, has become more acutely important as the rise of wearable devices and the spread of telehealth practices increasingly place different health care activities in the hands of patients. In these situations, failure to use content effectively can have adverse effects, including medical complications, injury, and even death. Addressing these situations involves understanding the mental models guiding how audiences use health care content. This article examines what these mental models entail and how they affect an audience’s usability expectations for health care. The article also presents an approach for researching such expectations and applying related findings to develop usable health care content for different groups. The article’s objective is to provide medical writers with an approach for creating usable health care materials for different audiences.




How to Cite

St.Amant K. A Cognitive Model Approach to Creating Usable Health Care Content. AMWA. 2021;36(3). doi:10.55752/amwa.2021.43