The Importance of Healthcare Design for Patient Outcomes

Connectivity isn’t just a buzzword in the healthcare industry anymore, as companies are looking to disrupt the old models of treatment and usher in a new era of tech-driven care. Design and usability have become the focus for many innovative startups looking to transform the industry, and patients have benefited from this recent shift.

Healthcare Industry Transformation

So what exactly does design mean with regard to the healthcare industry? The answer is twofold: it refers to the manner in which care and services are delivered to patients and the actual setup of the delivery system.

The delivery of care is facilitated by healthcare infrastructure that’s designed to maximize usability and efficiency through the use of technology and streamlined communications. And, according to Wired, more focus is being applied to designing for patients. Thus, the name of the game is becoming patient engagement through design.

Gretchen Wustrack, head of the Active Health group at the San Francisco-based design firm IDEO, is leading a growing movement focused on human-centered design. This is a patient-centric strategy that develops a healthcare system based on the needs of specific individuals. She told Wired that design is all about understanding what people want.

“I was brought up to think design was much more art, that it was about beautiful objects. It is that, but it’s also fundamentally about problem solving,” said Wustrack. “It’s understanding where things can be better. That doesn’t mean things can’t be beautiful. I think that’s an incredible tactic for solving problems. If we can create beautiful products and desirable apps and things that just make us engage on a visceral level, that’s a tool for getting people to do what they need to do to be healthy.”

She noted that a big challenge is the numerous players involved with the healthcare industry – regulatory agencies, healthcare providers, insurers, and patients. This is why Wustrack thinks startups have a significant advantage, as they can direct resources to identify specific needs for patients.

The Role of Startups

Startups are focused on meeting the needs of smaller groups of patients, and if they achieve success, that model or product gets incorporated into the larger healthcare design. Welkin has focused its efforts on streamlining the delivery of care, as collaboration tools and services help to simplify communication and improve ease of use for medical professionals and their patients.

Other startups are hoping to apply this line of thinking to the healthcare industry as well, as there is much room for improvement with regard to the existing infrastructure. According to InformationWeek, the Ebola crisis highlighted how much progress needs to be made – the U.S. hospitals that allowed patients to be released who were potentially infected raised many red flags within the industry. People blamed the electronic health record systems, the nurses and doctors, and the institutions.

InformationWeek noted that these types of events truly highlight the need for a design model that incorporates the latest technology – both in terms of care and collaborative technology – within healthcare. Where designers were once viewed as a luxury for private consumer product companies, hospitals are beginning to see their importance.

The design process, according to InformationWeek, for healthcare is focused on two main goals:

  1.    Finding and understanding the needs of users.
  2.    Identifying, trying, and testing technically feasible solutions.

By incorporating the feedback of users into the design process, hospitals and companies, often startups, can work together to incorporate the right technology into their healthcare models.  This way, the needs of the patient are valued above all else.

Patient-Centric Design

Some within the industry are even hoping to turn hospitals into hubs of technology. According to KQED Science, the concept of design is becoming so intertwined with technology as of late that it’s almost inescapable. But, as one industry leader noted, this tech-driven approach can’t be divorced from what should be the real focus of healthcare design: the patient.

“There’s a lot of pointing the finger at the patient. What design can bring to health care isn’t just the technology, but the patient-centered approach,” said Aaron Sklar, Director of Experience Strategy and Design at Healthagen.

Sklar spoke to the idea of “service design” within healthcare – this concept is based on the idea that the interaction between patients and care providers is becoming increasingly important. The point of service design is not only to ease this interaction, but also to make it more effective and delightful.

The idea is that by facilitating a meaningful conversation between providers and patients, the overall health outcome will be improved upon because certain diseases and illnesses will be tracked and discovered earlier and more often. Technology is the key to this facilitation, but the human touch can never be left out of the process.