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12 ways to improve the healthcare user experience

Brian Eastwood | April 9, 2013
Technology is a great way to engage patients in managing their health, but poor design--whether it's a bad interface or an app that doesn't meet patients' needs--often stands in the way. These 12 tips will help designers and developers improve the user experience for patients who want to improve their health.

When you think about it, the patient empowerment movement makes plenty of sense. The average doctor visit is only seven minutes, notes Amy Cueva, CEO, co-founder and healthcare principal of experience design firm Mad*Pow, but patients are in their bodies 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In essence, she says, we are our own primary care physicians.

With 80 percent of healthcare costs related to patient lifestyle choices, it can be argued that we're not doing a very good job. As Cueva puts it, the pendulum needs to swing from treating sickness to ensuring health, to helping patients "proactively manage" sleep, stress, diet and mental health in order to foment behavior change.

It only makes sense, then, for the people designing the technology that makes health management possible to consult the people who will use that technology. At the recent Healthcare Experience Design conference, of which Cueva is the chairwoman, attendees learned 12 strategies for improving the healthcare user experience.

Understand the Problem You're Trying to Solve

Healthcare leaders often struggle to define innovation, especially when it comes to delivering value, says Ryan Armbruster, vice president of innovation competency at UnitedHealth Group. The trouble is that they start with ideas when, instead, they should start by trying to understand the healthcare problems that they need to solve. The idea, and the realization of that idea, will follow.

There are different levels of need, too, Armbruster points out. Explicit needs are met by asking, tacit needs by observing and latent needs by innovating. Latent needs are the hardest to address- they aren't necessarily things that people realize they need, but once they have them, they can't live without them. One example of a technology that addressed a latent need is the DVR.

Participatory Design: It's All About Empathy

Understanding those latent needs will require healthcare technology designers to move beyond merely solving the problems that the healthcare system has created for itself. As Armbruster says, the industry focuses primarily on physical health. Think about technology that can address the way social, environmental and community health factors affect patient health.

The way to do that, of course, is to involve patients in the design process. "They are the key stakeholders who are too often overlooked," says Richard Anderson, a consultant who focuses on the patient experience so no one endures the same unnecessary nightmare he went through in the years following a misdiagnosed parasitic infection.

Anderson cites three examples of participatory design that are working: Peer-to-peer healthcare, the quantified self movement and epatient advocacy. None has a narrow focus, and none seeks modest improvement to the status quo; all aim for "badly needed healthcare revolution."


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