Why Healthcare Needs Human-Centered Design

By Denny Royal

May 1, 2014

The Affordable Care Act demands better health outcomes. Which means we need to start designing healthcare solutions around people instead of billable events.

Everything about the health care experience today has been designed around the billable event. From the way your medical record looks to the length of your doctor’s office visit, everything has been organized around the financial transaction between the insurance companies and the service provider. This approach often gets in the way of managing for better health outcomes. Now that The Affordable Care Act is placing a heavy emphasis on outcomes, the health care experience for providers, patients and payers needs a redesign, and it won’t be successful unless the health care industry brings designers to the table.

Designers come in many forms—architects, interaction designers, and product designers. The one thing we all have in common is the skill and desire to make things work for the people who use them. We have a deep desire to understand the people who will use our product or service. More than anything we design for outcomes and goals, not things, hoping to get people excited or at least emotionally satisfied. These are not topics that come up in most boardrooms.

Here are some things the health care industry could learn from a human-centered designer:

What do they care about? What are they trying to accomplish? What frustrates them? What do they need most from you? Listening, and more importantly, observing is where real insight happens. Focus groups only expose the loudest voice in the room. Going to where people live or work and watching what functions and what doesn’t will provide more empathy and a better understanding of where changes need to happen.

1. Spend time listening to, and more importantly observing, the people you serve.

Designers know there are many ways to solve a problem. Some work better than others. Don’t be afraid to test and change as you see how things work. This approach may seem time consuming and resource intensive, but this investment in exploration will pay dividends when you invest in finding the right approach earlier rather than later.

2. Test ideas until you find one that works.

Designers have a knack for recognizing how a solution for one problem might be applied in a different context or situation. For example, Azul Seven’s team looked at active social media communities to better understand how social support might work for patients with chronic diseases. Why? You can often find a solution to a problem if you look outside of your own context.

3. Seek good ideas, no matter where they come from.

Designers often must work with others to realize their designs. Architects must work with builders. Interaction designers must work with programmers and visual designers. Industrial designers must work with engineers and manufacturers. Collaboration leads to more input and more insight. It is a messy business to collaborate, but if managed well, it almost always leads to a better solution that gets to market faster because the hard work was done early in the process.

4. Learn to collaborate.

We have a big opportunity right now to design for healthier outcomes that come with a more satisfying experience for patients, consumers, providers and those involved with health support systems.

Want to learn more about design for innovation or biomimicry?

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