Designing for healthcare depends on blending humanity with tech
Every industry has a human element, but designing for healthcare means understanding that connection is the heart of medicine.
All the new medicines and advancing technologies in healthcare mean nothing without the interactions between doctors and patients. When a person walks in complaining of an ache or pain, the doctor’s job is to use their knowledge and intuition to tease out details and offer a diagnosis. That process is intrinsic to the profession, and it’s why the doctor-patient relationship is so sacred.
It’s also the same process we use when building software for healthcare providers.
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Facilitation is what drives innovation in healthcare software applications. We listen and learn, then find ways to make things more transparent for users on either end. We can create tools that help patients feel cared for with a human-centered design process. Moreover, we can give providers the data they need to deliver better-quality care.
Today, TXI has worked on everything from an app to educate doctors with interactive CME-crediting lessons to software that connects homecare providers with clients and their families. Over those and other projects, we’ve picked up a few lessons on how to design healthcare software with a human-centered mindset.
Here, we’ll go deeper into a few of those lessons. But first, a look at the regulatory landscape that makes designing for healthcare stand out.
Regulation makes healthcare software design completely different from consumer-oriented tech
When we’re working on consumer product design, there are two things we’re balancing: the needs of the business and the needs of the user. When we started building healthcare software products, we had to figure out how to accommodate a third constraint: regulation.
Patients entrust healthcare providers with their most sensitive health information, from test results to medical diagnoses. Regulatory compliance is key to maintaining a quality, trust-centered patient experience that leads to positive health outcomes.
Healthcare regulations influence many decisions healthcare professionals make, playing a role in everything from how they record and store data to how they prescribe treatment. Malpractice is a major fear, and for good reason. That’s why everything in the industry is put under the microscope, to keep practitioners from making themselves any more liable than they need to be.
Keeping all protected health information (PHI) stored securely to stay on the right side of HIPAA regulations is a unique challenge in the healthcare industry. And while the bulk of the pressure falls on strong development and security work, HIPAA compliance also extends to design, informing how we manage interactions that deal with PHI.
When designing for healthcare, we have to be conscious of what hesitance medical professionals may have and which regulations may slow us down. That means actively listening to providers about specific compliance challenges and concerns.
For example, a provider might note that their office struggles to securely transmit patient data across devices. Teams can apply this insight to their product design via software features like secure access controls, data encryption by default, and in-app reminders about compliant data handling practices.
We also have to work with healthcare providers to turn off their inner regulators so we can let ideas take shape without shutting them down. The key is to work with providers to develop as many product ideas as possible. Then, you can workshop them until you’ve zeroed in on a solution. After that, we know that any health software we develop will be regulated as thoroughly as everything else in the industry.
This ideation methodology—going big before going small—is a major aspect of design thinking. It takes a lot of bad ideas to find a good one. With enough ideas on the table, teams can refine toward a digital health solution that drives value for patients and providers.
Custom healthcare software development relies on healthcare providers’ trust
We’ve written a whole article on how healthcare software companies and healthcare providers can work together, but it’s worth pointing out again here how different the cultures are.
Because of their regulatory mindset, many people in the healthcare industry can be hesitant to move at the pace healthcare software developers are accustomed to. After all, many medical professionals spend the bulk of their careers removed from tech, not because they don’t have an interest, but because it’s a traditional and siloed industry.
New software in healthcare can make doctors reluctant, not because they don’t see the benefits, but because they are busy enough with the work in front of them. Learning a new tool and integrating it into your practice can feel like a major obstacle.
These cultural aspects don’t always align with the way designers think and operate. But it’s important to approach a provider partnership with an open and empathetic mind. One way to do that: weave empathy into the user experience for providers.
For example, many providers are used to working with clunky electronic health record systems. Designers can talk to providers about existing pain points, like complex menu options or text-only data readouts. Then, they can brainstorm ways to solve those problems with their software solution, e.g., via simpler menus or in-app data visualizations. The result: a seamless, empathy-driven product that’s optimized for usability—and that can deliver real value.
Throughout the design process, remember: the goal of a healthcare software developer shouldn’t be to force practitioners to work at a speed they’re uncomfortable with. It should be to find a middle ground, because we’re designing for them, not the other way around. If we want to sprint and they are more inclined to crawl, we work to establish a pace that allows us to walk comfortably side by side.
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Great healthcare software bridges the gap between physicians and patients
Empathizing with providers is crucial—but they’re only part of the story. Much as we have to build trust with the physicians, healthcare software providers also have to understand the people on the other side.
An empathetic patient experience can play a major role in determining health outcomes. In our work with Theragen, for example, we helped design a companion app for spinal surgery patients to use alongside a spinal fusion stimulator. The app enabled them to monitor pain levels and track recovery progress. Thanks to empathy-first design, patients were often more motivated to stick to their treatment plan, which helped them recover faster.
Empathetic tech can also serve as a bridge between doctors and patients. Many health conditions benefit from vasts amount of data in order to create an effective treatment plan. Digital health products allow physicians and patients to communicate with one another more freely and effectively. By empowering patients with the right technology, they will be equipped to transfer information to their doctors and comply better with their healthcare programs.
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To get there, though, designing healthcare software must start with welcoming both sides as stakeholders. Just as we work to welcome healthcare professionals into the process, we must also welcome healthcare recipients.
In practice, that means engaging with patients at every stage of the design process, from user interviews to prototype testing. It also means keeping patients’ needs top of mind in spaces where they can’t provide input, like team meetings and product conversations.
The end product should satisfy both patients’ and providers’ needs. If our medical software design doesn’t work as well for the folks in the operating room as the folks in the waiting room, we haven’t done our job.
While we’re equipping doctors with a tool, a healthcare software application can give patients a means of communication that had previously been unavailable to them. But that newness and unfamiliarity can negatively impact adoption. We need patients to feel comfortable sharing their information and interacting with the software, and that means reassuring them every step of the way.
To do that, we make sure the designs for healthcare software applications are both aesthetically soothing and insightful. When users upload personal information, or note issues they’ve been having, they’re greeted with calming, colorful hues baked right into the interface. When we must send notifications, we take care to avoid harsher colors and icons—like threatening red symbols—that invite panic from the user.
These may seem like small details. But the more comfortable users feel working with a healthcare software application, the more likely they will be to see it as a positive force—and as something they want to use.
Empathetic, user-focused design is at the heart of what we do at TXI. Our Head of Design explains more about “design thinking,” our way of working:
“Design thinking is about finding an intersection between what people desire, what’s technically feasible and what’s commercially viable for the organization.” The most important factor product designers consider when designing optimal user experiences is whether the product is actually useful or needed. “It doesn’t matter if you have some proprietary technology or a brilliant business model you think will sustain the innovation. If nobody wants it, neither of those ‘advantages’ matter.”
Human-centered design thinking can fuel powerful healthcare innovation from the start. One framework we use is the double diamond approach. Instead of assuming they know what users need, teams map a problem statement that’s grounded in real-world user conversations. Then, teams use that statement to ideate and refine toward a user-focused, empathy-driven solution, even if that’s an off-the-shelf product—or something other than software.
This approach ensures that patients and providers receive an end product that responds to their needs. It also optimizes for speed to value, ensuring that clients avoid making costly mistakes and investments.
Great healthcare design improves outcomes—if you keep people at the center
Building bridges is at the center of healthcare—between patients and providers, providers and administrators, administrators and insurers and many other paths and permutations.
At the end of the day, software is just one more way to build those bridges within the healthcare system. When you take care to understand both sides—and the regulations at work around them, you can build tools that solve problems and improve health outcomes.
Designing for healthcare should always be about streamlining these systems with tools that feel natural in people’s daily lives. A true solution must provide doctors and administrators with valuable data, and allow patients to feel cared for, even at a distance.
Tech can’t replace the human eye, or the human touch. Used correctly, though, it can help create a bond. In an industry built on interpersonal interactions, software for healthcare should always be in support of those relationships, fostering them through increased communication and understanding.
At TXI, we spend a lot of time at the start of the project performing user research. We speak with all the potential users: providers, doctors, clinicians, caregivers, patients and stakeholders. That’s because the sooner we can understand all the processes, wants, and needs our healthcare software application must answer for, the more effectively we can start taking the burden off of our users.
Want to learn more about our design methodology? Drop us a line—we’d love to have a conversation.
Published by TXI Healthcare in Digital Health