Innovation has traditionally been slow to come for the healthcare sector. In an industry where so much decision-making power rests in the hands of medical service providers and rule-bound regulatory bodies like HIPAA, any wholesale change requires a broad consensus that’s often difficult to reach.
A Digital Revolution
But the advent of the Internet has changed the operating environment for these organizations entirely. Through digital technology consumers are now able to access a range of applications, websites and concierge services that offer the kind of accessibility and attention that patients have been crying out for, for years. Empowered by these tools, individuals are now able to take control of their health in tangible ways.
- With mobile apps and wearable devices they can track fitness, diet and other vital statistics on a real-time basis.
- The emergence of online consultations has democratized the market for basic healthcare.
- Consumers now demand increasingly personalized user experiences that match up to the customized services delivered by massively popular businesses like Amazon, Netflix and Uber.
Indeed, 72% of CEOs in the space now believe that a proactive and competitively differentiated approach to patient engagement is required to ensure continued growth over the next three years. It’s not all talk either, over the past six years more than $18 billion have been invested in healthcare technology ventures in an effort to create smarter, more agile digital services. With a renewed focus on creating intuitive user experiences there is a clear requirement for optimize UX design across the customer journey.
Characteristics of a Digitally Enabled Healthcare Organization
Digital transformation isn’t about integrating new technologies into your existing systems and working practice. Instead, these tools should be used to automate, streamline and expand your operational processes in every direction. For healthcare providers this means, switching to a retail-like model that includes a wider range of treatment options for, as well as more transparency in pricing and information.
According to recent estimates, up to 65% of patient interactions will be initiated through mobile devices by 2018, while at least 80% of medical professionals are already using their smartphones to access medical records and pharmaceutical information. To enable better communication and connection with employees and consumers alike, you must design your offerings to be:
- Intuitive – All digital portals should be simple and flexible, with a focus on functionality over form.
- Navigable – Users must be clearly directed towards the information they need through each stage of a website. Buttons and CTAs must stand out. Urgent care information should also be placed front and center, to help emergency patients get the help they need as quickly as possible.
- Consistent – Language and branding should be consistent across all offline and online touch-points to ensure a seamless user experience.
- Accessible – Make sure that everyone can use your services. Incorporate text, images and video to create a multi-sensory experience that can serve the needs of a wide range of users.
Optimize by running regular usability tests to identify potential design deficiencies and practice continuous learning. UX Design Elevates Innovation and Customer Experience.
To understand how to serve patients, you need to know the pressing issues that they face and how they want them to be resolved. In a field that has remained unchanged for years, most patients may not be able to explicitly identify what they need from their healthcare providers nevertheless these latent desires must be identified through observation and targeted innovation. Involving patients in the research, design and development process can help you achieve these goals more effectively.
The Nightscout project is a great example of making the patient-centric design. The project was developed by parents of children with type 1 diabetes who were unable to monitor their children’s glucose levels while they were at work. To get around these challenges they created a remote system that plugged into existing glucose monitoring technologies and uploaded all vital statistics to smartphone-accessible cloud networks in real-time. This relatively simple technology proved so popular that soon thousands of other people across the world began to use the system for their own health monitoring. Today, more than 12,000 people are connected to Nightscout.
It’s a clear example of how patients and caregivers can directly inform the creative process and contribute to the design of real solutions that have a bearing on their everyday lives.
A project that differed significantly in implementation and scale was the well-publicized launch of the Heathcare.gov website. The website was created to deliver subsidized health insurance to an estimated 7 million Americans who had heretofore been unable to access affordable medicine. To function as an effective portal for such a wide-base of first-time users, the website had to integrate seamless with at least 20 different data infrastructures, each controlled by a different branch of government. Because of the critical nature of this service, the website would also need to offer consistent up-time to hundreds of thousands of visitors at a time.
With expectations high, Healthcare.gov failed spectacularly at launch. But with that failure, the importance of user-centric design came to mainstream attention for the first time ever. Healthcare.gov was a clear indicator that consumers were no longer happy to accept technological limitations, now they were demanding digital services and products that worked perfectly the first time around. After all, Google and Amazon could provide targeted recommendations and user-friendly navigation for non-essential services, then how could a government-run, legally obligated service fail to do the same?The initial failure of healthcare.gov can be put down to a few key oversights.
- The project was subcontracted to 47 different organizations over three years, with so many disparate inputs how could the government hope to maintain any sort of consistency across the website. A clear vision was needed to connect all development and design activities.
- Planning was inadequate in other ways too. Initial government estimates for concurrent traffic were placed at around 50-60,000 users. Upon launch the website attracted at least 250,000 users at a time. Capacity has to be an overriding concern for an online storefront.
- There was no clear narrative to the website. Immediately upon entering healthcare.gov, visitors were prompted to apply by phone or online. But in order to actually understand what they were applying for, users had to spend considerable time browsing through the menu options.
- Even then, each menu option was hidden behind a complex series of pages that could easily dissuade even the most committed website visitor. Services needed to be streamlined.
- Ultimately, if the website had been properly tested before implementation then many issues could have been identified and resolved far earlier.
To some designers these solution-based models function only as stopgap measures that can help some patients without delivering on the kind of innovation required to change user experiences. To create real disruption you need to think about eliminating the source of the problem rather than working to mitigate it.
Think about how self-service banking completely redefined consumer finance; if solutions had been focused on existing frameworks than CEOs would simply have expanded working hours and hired more labor. To streamline workflows and reduce bottlenecks in a similar manner, healthcare providers should look to introduce more data transparency into the customer process.
New customers could be provided with secure portals to enter in key information like medical history, current conditions and medications as well as any other relevant information. These details could then be integrated with past claims data from insurance providers and used to develop personalized medical records for patients that can easily be standardized across all healthcare facilities.
Apps like Uber give users the ability to instantly connect with the services they need, when they need them from anywhere in the world. Healthcare needs to take cues from these services to create tools that offer patients the control they crave.
Currently, apps like STD triage offer patients the ability to anonymously send photos of rashes and other indications to trained medical professionals for a quick diagnosis. Similarly, Telehealth services allows patients to connect with trained medical professionals to assess and evaluate a range of conditions. If these tools can be expanded and integrated with conventional healthcare, medical services can become truly flexible.
At Visual Room we look to put many of these design principles in action to create more compelling patient interactions across a range of industries. At the National Palliative Care Registry we initiated a complete overhaul of their data infrastructure and website to connect the palliative care teams across the country. To find out how we can help your organization increase collaboration and end-to-end functionality, get started here.