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“Collaboration is the New Innovation”: A Q&A With Mad*Pow’s Amy Cueva

MedTech Boston sat down with founder and CXO of Mad*Pow, Amy Cueva, to discuss how innovators can leverage design to drive change in healthcare. Cueva will be delivering a keynote, Design For Change: Empathy and Purpose, at next week’s HxR conference in Boston

To start things off, how do you define design?

Design is an invitation to change. Design gets us from where we are to where we want to be. It is a human-centered pathway to guide change and to improve the experiences of the population we serve. We are all designers in one way or another.

When MedTech Boston last interviewed you in 2013, you noted that although there was an abundance of new healthcare technology on the market, it wasn’t necessarily creating better results for the patients it was intended to serve. Has this changed over the past few years? If so, how and why?

I think it has changed for the better, but the evolution is still ongoing. Over the last few years we have started to see the healthcare industry recognize the importance of empathy and the value of design. The necessity of empathy in the healthcare ecosystem has been elevated in the consciousness of the industry, and that has had a positive effect. It has led to more focus on the patient experience, and that is starting to result in better patient outcomes.

There is still much work to be done, though. The industry does still suffer from “shiny object syndrome.” There is still the tendency to throw a lot of technology at a problem without figuring out workflow and without considering the patient experience through the entire healthcare ecosystem, across channels.

Still many healthcare organizations have declared their purpose to be a partner in health to the people they serve. That gives me hope that we will get there.

MedTech Boston recently attended an iGiant roundtable that discussed sex and gender specific design elements in healthcare.  In what ways is design being leveraged to improve the health and wellness of women?

Core tenets of human-centered design are inclusion and diversity. Inclusion meaning that there is input from everyone who has a stake in the solution. Diversity meaning that we seek the opinions of a range of people, including those of differing ethnicities, various economic and social backgrounds, and of different genders.

We, as designers, will come up with better, more effective solutions if a diverse range of people provide input in the process. Human-centered design has opened up the process of design to a more diverse group, and that has made for more effective solutions for everyone, including women.

With regards to women, specifically, the greater inclusion of women in problem-solving and design related to healthcare, has led to the injection of some stereotypically female characteristics into healthcare solutions: emotion, intuition, openness and nurturing. Adopting these characteristics into the business of healthcare has had a positive effect not only on the care that women receive, but on the care that all patients are receiving. The participation of women in the design and development of healthcare solutions has increased the quality and effectiveness of care for women, and for everyone else.

What parts of the healthcare system do you think most urgently need to be redesigned or improved through design?

We need to improve the experience people have interacting with the healthcare system.  Anyone who has experienced a health crisis themselves or with a family member knows how painful and frustrating it can be to navigate. These are emotional situations, and patients and their families need support, empathy, and seamless connections to care. Our healthcare system is not up to that standard yet. It needs an infusion of humanity and kindness to build trust with patients and their families.

After improving basic interactions between patients and the healthcare systems, the next frontier in healthcare is that it’s ripe for improvement in prevention. We need to take common sense steps to prevent people from becoming patients in the first place.

In spite of our resources, Americans keep getting sicker and sicker. The American diet, chronic stress, addiction, and the sedentary workplace all add up to astronomical health costs due to lifestyle-induced health conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes.

Health organizations will look beyond transitional care to the whole health of the person. That is going to take a while to do, and that is going to take collaboration with the food system and the workplace, etc.

This is a prime opportunity for design to help improve healthcare. Design is all about collaboration and bringing various ideas together to build a solution. At this point, improving the healthcare system is not about innovation – it is about collaboration. Collaboration is the NEW innovation.

Looking forward to your upcoming keynote at HxR, how can empathy help designers improve patient experience?

Empathy can help us find our life’s mission as individuals, or it can help our organization find its purpose. It is in truly understanding the needs of the people whom we serve that we will get the drive to go ahead and make the change that’s needed.

Empathy has been elevated in the healthcare industry consciousness. They are delivering more human support that people can use. Empathy can continue to drive better patient experiences and better health outcomes.

However, we are at risk of “empathy” becoming a buzzword. This can lead to cookie cutter solutions that miss the target. We have to guard against empathy becoming a meaningless buzzword that’s thrown around without regard for its purpose.

Empathy is not the end, it is the means. Empathy is not a trend. It is a philosophy. We need designers, developers, clinicians, entrepreneurs and healthcare executives to continue to embrace empathy as an essential philosophy and let it drive solutions for improving the patient experience.

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