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A Framework for Designing Positive Health Outcomes

From leadless pacemakers that can be implanted through a catheter to algorithms than can predict the onset of a seizure to robots that can perform surgery at the command of a physician, the medical industry is capable of making tremendous leaps of innovation. While these developments help us live longer than ever before, they are mostly technical or clinical advancements targeted at incrementally improving the performance of a device or the execution of a procedure. Very little effort has been devoted to improving the human experience of interacting with healthcare technologies, an area of focus which has the potential to be very disruptive.

The gap between the quality of experiences we have with medical devices and healthcare services and that of consumer electronics is a wide one. As everyday devices like mobile phones, tablet PCs, and smart-watches increasingly are delightful to use, finely attuned to our needs and desires, and becoming part of our identity we are proud to project to others, the medical devices in our lives, like blood glucose meters, pulse oximeters, insulin pumps, and cardiac event monitors, still feel like barriers which keep us from living the lives we want.

Part of the difference in these two types of experiences comes from the way we arrive at them. When you walk into the pharmacy or emergency room your goals are very different from when you walk into the Apple Store – the former is driven by need, the latter by interest. But regardless of how we get to these experiences, does the gap between them have to be so wide? Why does our experience with medical devices and healthcare services have to lag so far behind our experiences with consumer electronics? Do we just accept this fate and give up? Or can we create experiences with medical and healthcare technologies which are truly positive, that address the gap in the best way possible?

While strict regulatory constraints and entrenched reimbursement patterns keep developers from focusing on positive experiences with healthcare technologies, our own low expectations as patients, family caregivers, and clinicians do nothing to cause them to improve. These low expectations, however, are changing.

As patients, we have greater access to information and feel increasingly empowered to take on a more active role in our care. As family caregivers, we are doing more critical care tasks for our loved ones away from home. And as clinicians and administrators, we face greater pressure to provide quality care efficiently with increasingly technologically complex devices and software. And because we have all had very positive experiences with consumers electronics products and services, we have rising expectations for the products and services we use as we take care of own health.

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Addressing the gap

At Artefact, we believe that the role of design is to drive towards positive outcomes. Addressing this gap in our experiences between medical and consumer technologies, with the goal of improving health outcomes, offers an excellent opportunity for us to align our work with our philosophy. We are introducing a framework for how we and others might approach improving healthcare experiences by addressing the underlying causes for why our experiences inhibit rather than empower us:

  • How might we understand and design for the variable places where routine and critical care happens, the range of clinical expertise and technological savviness of those who will be caring for others, and the continuum of patients themselves and their different goals, attitudes, and motivations?
  • Can we deepen the connections between patients and their family caregivers and clinicians, between individuals and a larger community with the same health conditions and needs (while still managing individual privacy), between users and the affinities they have for the products and services they employ to improve and manage their health?
  • What are the data that people need, whether healthy or sick, giving treatment or being treated, to make better decisions, and how should those data be delivered and presented so that people can see the most meaningful insights and take the best action?

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Aligning context

When product, environment, goals, and workflow are all aligned, the usefulness and usability of products and services will help us achieve the objectives and outcomes we desire as patients, caregivers, and clinicians. Designs which are successfully aligned to context can become transparent.

When SonoSite began work on a new flagship product, X-Porte, it approached Artefact to help create a highly configurable, intuitive, and approachable user interface that replaces traditional button arrays with a large touch screen. At the same time, the design had to make it easy for the novice, the non-traditional user, and the savvy specialist to adopt and use this powerful imaging technology in their daily routine. Understanding the different contexts in which the users operate allowed us to optimize the design in ways that brought the power of touch to ultrasound without compromising the rich insights capable with the device.

Deepening connections

If we are able to help people build and maintain richer personal relationships in care settings, and if we are able to connect emotionally with the products we use for our care (and even establish an affinity for them, or see them as part of our positive identity) we will be more likely to seek out care when it is needed and follow through with regimens in full compliance with clinician orders and adherence to healthy beliefs and behaviors.

This belief is what drove our initiative with PATH, an international nonprofit organization that transforms global health through innovation. PATH and Artefact partnered to investigate and explore solutions to one of the most serious yet preventable health challenges in the developing world: maternal mortality. We set out to identify the factors that influence how and when new mothers seek care. Understanding the relationships between mothers and the people that influence them was what guided the design of the product concepts that aimed to reduce the life-threatening infections that occur during pregnancy and labor.

Informing decisions

New access to data, when surfaced at the right  time and in the right way, can help us see more meaningful insights and drive us to clearer action. Smart devices and services can help us make better clinical and behavioral decisions, minimizing the risk of emergent events in the short term, while preventing long-term health complications. Immediate decision making support could help us stay safe and live healthily.

Artefact’s Seattle Children’s Patient Information System was an award-winning concept designed to complement an Electronic Health Record system (EHR). It united multiple data sources to tell the patient story, and helped clinicians prioritize work based on the patient’s needs. The people-centric solution augmented vital human connections and surfaced cross-team insights for better health outcomes, a result that so far has eluded existing EHR solutions.

Promoting positive health outcomes by design

It is sometimes easy to accept the less-than-ideal experiences we have with the medical devices and healthcare services currently available. Developing these products and services is very hard, and the challenges should not be understated. It is also sometimes tempting to think that a simple and immediate fix can be applied (like a Band-Aid) to make the pain go away. But like with many complex ailments, simple solutions to our poor healthcare experiences don’t exist. Rather, with a comprehensive approach, involvement from the right stakeholders, and technologies applied in the right ways we will be able to ensure that the quality of experience we need can promote the positive health outcomes we desire.