Northern Beat: Designing for Healthcare, Lessons from SXSW 2018

Designing for Healthcare, Lessons from SXSW 2018

One of the biggest themes at this years SXSW conference is healthcare. How can we design to improve the patient experience, quality of life and quality of results?
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The focus in healthcare recently has been about capturing huge amounts of data for analysis and understanding. Now there is a growing awareness that this data, and the insights captured from it, must be communicated back to the patients. Results from tests are often sent back to a patient in a long table of confusing data without any kind of interpretation. There may be important insights in that data, but it’s not reaching the user in the way they need it. Robert Califf from Duke University says data shared with patients needs to be meaningful, and to achieve that we need to personalise it to what that person wants to know”. Some may want only hear the recommendations of a doctor, while others may want the raw data themselves. The problem now is the lack of control for these patients. They have no choice over how they recieve their data, if they recieve it at all. Califf says that if we can engage people with their health data in a meaningful way, it’s possible to switch the relationship of healthcare from responsive to preventative”. 

These problems that exist in healthcare are not new, but the approach to solving them is evolving. Bon Ku, emergency medicine physician, thinks that we can solve this by bringing in design thinking methodologies. Ku now teaches his medical students design thinking techniques. He believes approaching problems in healthcare in a creative way leads to new and innovative solutions. Techniques that are utilised in design thinking for other industries, user-stories, personas, user journeys, can apply to many situations in healthcare. By approaching and designing for these scenarios in a human-focused, design-led way, we can begin to improve the experience for both patients and healthcare workers. Ku compares the human-centered to the data-driven: Data doesn’t move people, stories do humanising the numbers and data can create real change. Understanding the human story behind the patient can, and should, inform the design process from the start”. It becomes clear how a human-centered approach could solve the problems with patient data David Califf described.

An inspiring example of powerful change that design-led, human-centered thinking can create was presented by Michelle Lee from IDEO. The problem: children were afraid of taking an MRI scan. Understandably, the large machines terrified the children, over 80% of children required sedation. This took more time, the waiting list for a scan was 18 days. Doug Dietz from GE Healthcare came up with a solution. He redesigned the MRI equipment to look like various playful scenes. Children were no longer faced with scary equipment, instead they saw pirate ships and camping tents. Dietz approached the problem in a human-centered way. He empathised and understood the needs of the user, and created a solution that addressed those needs. After the MRI machines were repainted, only 30% of children required sedation and the waiting list reduced to less than a day. Such an incredible example of the power of design-thinking in healthcare demonstrates potential for real change. Those changes can both improve the quality of life for patients and create positive performance returns.

Healthcare remains a complex landscape. Our designer Joe asked Bon Ku about the difficulties balancing the needs of a doctor with the needs of a patient. A doctor may need to work fast, capturing as much data as possible. A patient may want to feel safer by slowing down and being in a more relaxed atmosphere. The discussion concluded that in some difficult cases, the whole healthcare system itself may need to change, adapt or rebuild. In Ku’s opinion, and that of the many here at SXSW, it is key that designers should be a part of this process from the start, and that design-thinking is key to bringing meaningful change to those that need it most. 

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