Member Insight

July 2021

Greg Gershman
Sean Hughes
Head of Design Consulting

How human-centered design (HCD) will help advance healthcare in a technology-driven world 

Technological innovation has helped solve many of the world’s complex problems. But what happens if the technology itself is complex? Tackling this issue is key to ensuring meaningful innovation in healthcare.

Healthcare delivery is perhaps the most essential of social services yet one of the most complex. Enter human-centered design, a mindset and an approach with common sense guideposts that elicits creativity throughout the innovation process and has the interests of all involved in care delivery – particularly patients and clinicians – front and center.

Telehealth provides an excellent example for how human-centered design can be applied to healthcare delivery technology. The technology enabling telehealth – communications devices, broadband connectivity and remote vital signs monitors – have existed for many years. However, adoption of telehealth has lagged because of the challenges of recreating the in-person patient/clinician experience. Almost overnight, the pandemic drove rapid adoption of telehealth as a “nice to have” to an essential service, especially safe healthcare delivery to vulnerable populations. And applying the principles of human-centered design will remain invaluable in advancing telehealth use for all, including patients and doctors, hospitals and insurers, pharmacies and technology providers.

Human-centered design (HCD) helps us see healthcare as a “connected care” system, and not a series of singular products or services with separate focuses. It is iterative and pushes us to employ a four-step process when advancing product and process innovations:

  • Discover – Gain in-depth and actionable insights through analyzing data, understanding people and stepping into an immersive problem-solving experience.
  • Frame – Define the appropriate challenges and opportunities and then envision an improved future result or state.
  • Ideate – Using the power of collective and creative thinking, identify solutions and select the most relevant ideas. Create a shared understanding.
  • Build – Produce tangible outputs that can be tested and rapidly actioned while creating a roadmap for change.

Rather than prolong development cycles, human centered design fuels process-driven collaboration for better results, all the while integrating and weighing the cost and quality components that must be accounted for throughout.

When it comes to human centered design, if you are able to create a simple prototype, you can drive improved anecdotal user experience, making it possible to test faster, with fewer resources and quickly identify and minimize user challenges. Afterwards, reusable modules and components can be applied elsewhere. Results don’t stand alone but instead contribute to a library of tested successes that can be repurposed for related solutions at scale.

Human centered design will help modernize healthcare across multiple areas. Mobile is an obvious one, as all of us already carry a powerful computer with us 24/7. Wearables have become popular too, with millions using watches that can track your pulse, provide an ECG, measure blood oxygen and deliver information to your doctor. On-demand care is another area where products and expectations are accelerating, and can be enhanced further using human centered design.

Mobile and on-demand are not separate schemes, but rather related components of stakeholder expectations today. Both serve user convenience: a user’s terms on a user’s time. A user will choose a provider based on criteria such as convenient appointment times and superior performance. This shift of control from the provider to the patient is transformational, and human centered design helps build products that can stand up against these heightened stakeholder expectations.

So, how does this manifest itself in the real world? Partnership is key. Through work with Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Department of Defense (DoD), we have seen an ability to provide responsive care at scale, in the most challenging of circumstances. For example, VA transformed a six-figure workforce to telework in a matter of weeks during the pandemic, serving veterans in urban and rural environments alike with the innovative delivery of remote healthcare.

Collaborations such as these can drive development of innovations that save and improve lives. We believe human centered design is critical to R&D and new product development, which is why it’s employed across all business units. Stakeholder engagement is key. Product perfection is not possible – nor is it the goal. But together, we can redesign and transform the delivery of healthcare today and into the future.