As patients, we seek medical resources to stay healthy and alive. We want to be heard and seen from our providers when we need it (especially when we REALLY need it). And, needless to say, most healthcare providers want to be successful at their jobs, which mirrors the above – a desire to help keep people healthy and alive. Simple, right?
Unfortunately for America’s health care system, it hasn’t been that simple for a while. Providers face issues that cost time and money; consequently, the general population is adversely affected. Here are some (of many) obstacles that medical professionals confront regularly:
1. Applications that are difficult to understand
I recently read a story (which, unfortunately, wasn’t the first of its kind) about a mistake made in a piece of software that cost a child her life.
This is probably the biggest offender in my book, as it’s one that could have been avoided if the application was designed with the user in mind. How many people have been injured or were subjected to a negative experience simply because of confusing software?
2. Lack of resources coupled with more patients
According to a Washington Post article, published last year, there will be a shortage of up to 90,000 providers in 2025. On top of that, we are living longer – which means more of us need care longer. And unfortunately, we are getting sicker, with the rise in diseases like obesity1. This means more of us will need medical attention. With a shortage on the horizon, providers will not be able to keep up with demand.
We need to find a solution.
3. An increasing need for transparency
We are so accustomed to easily accessing all of our information online, we expect a similar experience when it comes to our health records and data. Patients want to know where their payments are going. They want to keep track of physician notes and information. They want to be able to perform their own research.
The solution should not require more data entry or additional work to create meaningful data for everyone.
4. A demand to engage patients through better technology
With the increasing use of mobile devices, messaging, and video technology, it’s easier to connect to people no matter where you are. But connecting to your provider is not as simple. Many medical offices are technologically far behind.
How many doctors do you have with whom you can schedule an appointment online?
How many can provide a diagnosis via video chat?
With how many can you actually pay a bill online?
Although the technology is available, the majority of healthcare providers are far behind when it comes to scheduling, billing, and more.
5. Understanding data in a meaningful way
As healthcare IT improves, it means increased potential for capturing useful data to make better decisions. One area big data will be helpful is in precision medicine, the ability for
“a physician to look at an individual’s genotypic information to understand his or her disease on a molecular level and use clues in genetic variation to identify the most effective course of action"3
Using an individual’s information, researchers will be able to use the data to develop effective treatments for diseases like cancer, epilepsy, etc. This information, along with an examination of social determinants of health, could also prove useful for improving population health.
This requires not just acquiring and maintaining data securely, but understanding and interpreting it effectively, or as this article put it, “transforming data into information”. And, regarding obtaining the data, we still face challenges.
THERE IS HOPE!
While these are just some of the obstacles, there are ways that we, as partners in digital technology, can help this industry:
1. Design the applications to work FOR humans
Design by understanding the people
As mentioned, this tugs at my heartstrings as a designer. There is no doubt that the software used in hospitals and medical offices is complex; a lot needs to be recorded and monitored. But there’s no reason an application can’t be intuitive or work for, and not against, people.
Understanding how, when, and why a nurse needs to enter or retrieve data should provide information about how to design more intuitive software.
That is, by understanding the user’s workflow and how they interact with the application in various scenarios, we can discover how the application’s workflow should be designed. This process will reveal how the app can GIVE instead of just TAKE information.
Which reminds me – teach (or program) an app to be a giver, not just a taker.
Furthermore, there’s a huge missed opportunity here! Applications can be very powerful and intelligent if programmed to be so. If designed with a human workflow in mind, they can actually catch errors or signal alerts in order to provide helpful feedback. But if they’re just programmed to receive data, they can only take and never give.
2. Enable users to take control
Design to engage and enable
There are applications that allow users to take more control over their health, whether that’s to educate themselves on diet choices, keep track of diagnostics or even to signal a problem.
But this work is far from over. More can be done in terms of:
Wearables that can provide early detection to issues and can track behavior and activity
Software that can work with mental health to signal a problem or alert a caretaker or a provider
At the very least, applications that better link to our health portals, appointment histories, lab results, prescriptions, electronic health records, heck – even our vaccines!
3. Understand human workflows
One size CAN fit many
To meet these time-intensive demands but not spend every hour filling out reports, providers need better systems and applications that securely transfer information and notes. With more intuitive platforms that have personas in mind, one application can work for many.
For example, understanding what information a doctor needs to log (and the process by which they do it) can reveal how an interface can provide more of a guide to the process. By learning what information is meaningful to patients, a canny application could adjust based on their needs and perspectives. One application could improve both the interface that a doctor uses as well as provide helpful information to a patient.
By just talking through needs and mapping out workflows, we can begin to envision how one application can work and makes sense for multiple users. By recognizing the needs of users, understanding how they process information, identifying any potential limitations or weaknesses, and enabling them to reach their goals, we can design and build an interface that works with various users, seamlessly.
4. Reposition for the future
Build a roadmap and start the journey
“Connecting” to new technology isn’t going to happen overnight. However, being attentive to it can lead us down a helpful path. This starts with communicating needs, identifying goals and getting everyone on the same ship to sail forward.
We can answer some of these questions and start to plan with a strategy session, like a design sprint. By understanding problem statements and the obstacles in our way, we can understand how to determine solutions to build and test against.
It might be a long road to beacon technology and VR, but defining short-term goals goals and aligning those with long-term goals will give us a clearer sense of where we are and how we need to get to our destination. It’s also a lot easier than shooting in the dark.
5. Collaborate with a team that understands data visualization
A team effort to turn data into information
…the challenge of examining all that data is finding employees with the right skill sets, engaging leadership to ensure projects succeed, having clean processes to communicate with customers and having a tight, iterative development cycle, according to Jonathan Greenberg, director of Fast Analytics at the University of Michigan Health System.4
If you have ever viewed a successful visual representation of data, you most likely had no problem understanding what the data was trying to communicate. You probably also didn’t realize the amount of data that was needed to create that chart or graph. However, if you were to view just the raw data, I’m certain it would be a very different experience.
Data visualization done right is a great way of disseminating large amounts of data as information that people can use. That process most certainly takes a team effort. To understand large amounts of data for initiatives like precision medicine or to progress in understanding and affecting population health, providers, leaders in the field, security analysts, researchers, et al, will need to work with data visualization strategists to determine the important data marks for all users, from providers to patients.
With the help from a team, a strategist can be a guide and determine the right set of methods with which to display the information accurately and effectively so that real humans can make informed decisions.
Still there’s work
By presenting these five issues and five solutions, I’m not saying that it solves all problems or even fully solves the issues I’ve identified. However, I do think that these problems are worth solving. This can be accomplished with the right team, including all stakeholders, and the appropriate tech partner. It will be a challenge, but can be solved with the right approach (link) and with a shared understanding and vision.