Project Nautilus

At Patientco, you’re not limited by your tenure at the company or your perceived lack of experience — you can make an impact as soon as you start, even if it’s right out of college.

We recently sat down with Erin Cobb and Sean Roberts to talk about Project Nautilus. Nautilus was a major undertaking by the product and development teams to completely overhaul PatientWallet, our patient-facing online bill payment environment.

Erin and Sean led the charge. At the time the project began, Erin had graduated from Georgia Tech about six months prior, and Sean had just joined the Patientco team a month prior.





Describe your roles at Patientco:

  • Erin: My main title is “UX Designer,” but our roles here aren’t limited to a job description. Since I’ve been at Patientco, my responsibilities have included things like QA, Project Manager, Product Manager, and Usability Engineer, in addition to UX Designer.
  • Sean: What are all the hats I wear? UX Design, Usability Engineer, and Front End Development Lead. A lot of my role is about paving a different way, introducing new philosophical ways of engineering along with new technology and tech stacks.

How did the Project Nautilus come about?

  • Erin: PatientWallet was in the works for a fairly long time as one of the weakest points in our UX cycle — there’s nothing wrong with it, but we didn’t really have a compelling reason outside of sheer user experience to rebuild it from the ground up. Sean had been advocating the project as a beta for our new technology stack.

What is the new technology stack?

  • Sean: We went from embedded templates inside of PHP to a single page application framework with a service-oriented architecture based on Angular, Node for the build process, and reusing PHP for the back-end. The benefit of that is from the Angular perspective is performance by offloading all of the creation of the website to the client and only using the backend and network for loading actual data.
  • Erin: We went from an archaic, outdated framework to something modern that set a good foundation for future development. The original PatientWallet was built in 2009; technology has progressed a lot since then.
  • Sean: We were learning the product as we were building it, including reverse engineering old code to really understand how it was working.

What kind of oversight did you have?

  • Sean: Trust was thrown into our court to have someone from Product and a Senior Engineer go off together and build something new.
  • Erin: It speaks volumes of Patientco to place so much trust in people who have relatively little experience on paper. It’s phenomenal to work at a place that values raw talent and drive over bureaucracy. It paves the way for better teams and better processes.

Describe your collaboration between the two of you and the rest of Patientco during the Project.

  • Erin: In larger companies, there is an underlying tension between Product and Development. One wants to build certain things and one wants to build them a certain way. At Patientco, this isn’t the case. Moving forward, we’ve set a precedent for constant collaboration and team accountability. We knew that if this project failed, it was on everyone — all of R&D. Luckily, things went really well, launch was a non-issue, and we could really celebrate that together.
  • Sean: While we led it and spent most of the time developing the new PatientWallet, there was no shortage of help from the rest of the Patientco. Volunteers came forward to help with QA Checks, Usability Testing, and other inputs.
  • Erin: Nautilus had substantial buzz throughout the company. It was a team effort to get it out the door, to appreciate the work that was done, and to sell it well. Everyone had a huge hand in launching it as it was supposed to be launched.

What was unique about the Nautilus project?

  • Sean: The scale of the project was crazy. What we did was take something that had been there for almost ten years and completely overhaul it. The PatientWallet is one of the core processes of the business. I don’t know if we thought about it like that at the time — the sheer amount of work that is required to be put on two people and how much impact every little detail had. In the future, there will be more slow-rolling and incremental updates. Starting from “new file” was a very scary and exciting thought – it’s as blank of a canvas as it could be.
  • Erin: We didn’t let ourselves recognize what a huge undertaking this was. “This is going to impact 200 thousand patients, this is going to impact X number of users per month.” We just didn’t go there. It was a blank canvas that needed a brand new product.
  • Sean: We didn’t realize how much work it was to do this until after the fact. What I focused on was that if I do my job effectively, someone else who is dealing with medical issues can get back to living life instead of worrying about medical payments. It made me feel better about what I was working on and gave me something to focus on.

Any humorous moments during the project?

  • Sean: For me, one of the best parts was watching people’s true characters come out during Usability Testing.
  • Erin: Sometimes we like to live in a bubble where we design for incredibly tech-savvy individuals, but that’s definitely not the case. Usability testing opened our eyes to exactly what our users were feeling throughout the process, good and bad. We had a lot of fun with it.
  • Sean: We had to rely on each other and use humor to diffuse the pressure that we were under. There’s a weird point in the project when all the hard stuff is done, and now you have to start focusing on all of the little itty bitty details that last week had no importance. It was hard to switch focus and not think that there’s something else huge that we have to work on. We now had to worry about trivial things like font sizes. I wish I could coin a term for it. Maybe “Post Mountain Confusion – PMC.”
  • Erin: Downhill Delusions.

What did “success” look like?

  • Erin: For us, a big piece of the end game wasn’t to hear patient feedback like, “Wow this site is amazing!” We heard nothing, which was music to our ears. Hearing nothing means that everything went as good as you could ever hope for.

What are you working on now?

  • Sean: We redesigned the PatientWallet because we wanted a better user experience for the patient, and we now want to extend that enhanced user experience beyond the PatientWallet.
  • Erin: There is a large tail of patient communication that follows Nautilus. From that end, we have been working on HTML emails, including design work, content, and copy, as well as continuous improvement in other areas of the site. At the end of the day, great user experience stems from an underlying desire to help people. At Patientco, we’ll never be short of opportunities to innovate and better the product for our users.