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10 Design Takeaways from HxRefactored


Standing room only for HxR’s patient-centered design track. Photo via @uxjam.

As physicians, healthcare professionals, designers, developers, researchers and strategists gathered at the Westin Boston Waterfront for this year’s Healthcare Experience Refactored (HxR) conference, they heard a variety of talks that centered on improving the patient experience. At the core of the many presentations were some essential concepts that everyone – practitioners and designers alike – can apply to take the healthcare experience to the next level.

Here are a few design ideas that healthcare companies and entrepreneurs should consider as they seek to innovate in this space:

Crowdsourcing Health

Dr. John Brownstein from Harvard Medical School asked, “What if we were able to engage the public with tracking and identifying public health incidents?” By crowdsourcing publicly posted information from Twitter, Facebook, and other sources, we can often notice trends before more formal methods reveal them. Dr. Brownstein has found that this crowdsourced information is often more accurate and timely (such as information on drug side effects or flu symptom tracking) than traditional surveys. Some example projects that use crowdsourcing are Street Rx (black market pricing of drugs), the HealthMap vaccine finder and UberHEALTH.

Designing for Stress Relief

Between 60 to 90% of healthcare visits are related to stress. Several speakers – including Darshan Mehta, Sebastian Deterding, and Geoff Williams – emphasized how design could help people change their behaviors in order to improve health outcomes and build resiliency. Geoff Williams highlighted the Self-Determination Theory (SDT) as a way to move patients past volitional non-adherence by supporting natural tendencies to behave in effective and healthy ways.

Doing No Harm

Ciara Taylor and Samantha Dempsey from Mad*Pow unveiled The Designer’s Oath, a collaborative code of ethics based on the Hippocratic Oath. This document is a living, breathing statement that invites contributions from designers everywhere. The oath reminds us that just as physicians have a responsibility to those they care for, “designers now have the ability to impact human health, so we need a similar code of ethics to guide us.”

Going Beyond “Ideal Users”

Often we design for users in the general case – those “under the bell curve.” However, Eric Meyer emphasized that if we do so, we will miss what people need from a system or service when they are under enormous amounts of stress. Designers should seek to consider and design for people who are in crisis states as well as those who are following a “happy path” of expected outcomes. Dr. Catherine Rose, Sr. Program Manager at Philips, is baffled by how current systems do not adequately help people under stress. “We need a way to help people navigate under stress. We’ve created an environment in healthcare that is the opposite of what it should be,” she says.

Empowering Patients

It seems simple and straightforward, but one look at the services and systems that we interact with everyday reveals that people typically do not have agency to make the best or most well-informed choices. Kate Brigham, Design Director at PatientsLikeMe, regularly interviews patients, caregivers, doctors, researchers, and providers to better design for the patient journey. Design can empower people by helping them triage their situations, increasing their knowledge, helping them to gain and maintain control over stressful situations, reducing isolation, and enabling them to find treatment options that are right for their particular contexts.

Considering other Success Stories

Toni Pashley demonstrated that healthcare products can be improved with a human-centered design approach. As VP of Product at Sharecare, Pashley believes that design should address the realm of human expectations. Various services already meet these expectations, so designers can leverage the success of these designs in the creation of concepts and solutions in healthcare. Think: Spotify for addressing self direction; Barkbox (and other subscription services) for providing stimulating experiences on demand; Amazon Smile for delivering the ultimate gratification; LinkedIn for celebrating achievement; and Uber for offering almost complete control.

Understanding the Culture

Sometimes it can be difficult to get access to the people or data that you need as a designer to explore a problem space adequately. Amy Cueva, Founder and CXO of MadPow, suggests that by understanding the culture of an organization (or client), we can begin to delve into what their ideal future may look like. If we can then communicate this vision and flip barriers on their heads (such as using fear and the risk aversion of a company to our advantage), we can gain buy in that can potentially turn naysayers into advocates.

Hiring Experts

Ken Savin at Eli Lilly realized, when his company could not engage with actual patients to generate data or validate designs, that he’d have to find an expert to help design a system that would boost adherence among the patient population. Savin reached out to Veryday, a Swedish design agency, to spearhead the research, design, and strategy for the adherence program at Eli Lilly. What followed was a very successful patient-centered collaboration that yielded actionable results.

Performing Usability Testing

Through a live demonstration, Steve Krug drove the message home that usability testing is a necessary tool for anyone to use. He suggested starting testing early (and not waiting until a design is “finished”), scheduling regular testing sessions throughout the design cycle (one morning a month, for example), and making usability testing a spectator sport (by inviting various team members to observe).

Designing like a Team Sport

Design should not just be in the hands of the experts. Jared Spool shared that teams should encourage facilitated leadership and design should come from everyone in the room (not just designers). In medicine, the mentorship model is “watch one, do one, teach one.” Teams can move people from literacy to fluency to mastery by helping individuals progress from unconscious incompetence (not knowing how much you don’t know) to unconscious competence (doing things well naturally). Thus, a goal is to make everyone on the team consciously competent as a designer.

There was also much more that happened at the event. Check out Dr. Kirti Patel’s story tomorrow morning for healthcare highlights you won’t want to miss.

Kijana Knight-Torres

Kijana Knight-Torres

    Kijana Knight-Torres is the Principal User Experience Researcher at projekt202. projekt202 is an Austin-born software design and development agency that focuses on creating optimal user experiences for clients and end users. Knight-Torres has a B.S. in Computer Science from Rice University and a M.S. in Information Studies from the University of Texas iSchool. She is passionate about helping others find solutions to their own problems and building empathy through effective communication. Besides work, she enjoys photography, music, and cooking and traveling with her husband.

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