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Providers are the Forgotten Users in Healthcare Design

By Denny Royal

October 23, 2016

Want to improve patient care? Start by designing better tools and workflows for providers.

The Azul Seven team recently shadowed a clinical pharmacist as she completed her daily tasks. We were shocked to find her having to use no less than seven different software systems to reconcile a single patient’s prescriptions.

All seven systems presented similar medication data in different formats with varying degrees of accuracy and timeliness. To try to speed things up, she created extensive workarounds involving several laptops, numerous printed medication lists and an elaborate coding system with multi-colored pens.

The process took upwards of 20 minutes for each patient she served. It was easy to see the digital tools that were intended to help her were actually crushing her productivity and generating more work.

Is This the Future of Healthcare?

The healthcare industry has recently developed a taste for human-centered design in an effort to improve patient experiences. We know improved experiences are desperately needed, but it’s problematic that the design work has centered almost entirely around the patient.

By interpreting human-centered design exclusively as patient-centered design, the industry is ignoring the other critically important people in the equation: providers and clinical staff. Ultimately, the feelings and behaviors of these individuals determine the kind of care patients receive. Empathy is a pay it forward kind of thing. How thorough, calm or empathetic can a physician, nurse or receptionist be, if their environments and tools continuously cultivate stress?

As a patient, it’s not unusual to feel the effects of design problems. We sit silently while our doctors distractedly try to navigate their EMR systems. We wait and wait as pharmacists lose their patience with needlessly complex data systems.

It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way

To improve patient experiences, one of the best things we can do is design systems that take the friction out of clinical workflows for providers and staff. To do that, we must truly understand their needs.

Most of the digital tools used in clinics today were designed from an inside-out perspective that prioritized existing data resources, rather than users’ needs. The systems look and behave as if developers and engineers built them while sitting in a conference room ticking off wishlists given to them by the purchasers—not the providers. The developers may have had conversations with a physician or two, but they clearly didn’t gain true empathy for the real end users.

When I talk about gaining empathy, I’m not referring to a client advisory group, surveys, phone interviews, and certainly not a focus group. I mean going into the field and spending time with healthcare professionals to understand what happens in their workdays. Only when we approach a design challenge in this way can we truly understand where the bar should be set. Then we can enable exceptional care by creating systems for the healthcare providers and staff who actually use them.


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