Healthcare Has Dodged Digital Upgrades for Years—But That’s All Coming to an End Now

To meet savvy consumers' needs, industry changes need to be embraced

Every industry is undergoing rapid change in the digital age, and healthcare is no different.
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The healthcare industry is being shaken by digital. Most of the major players are still reluctant to transition. How should the leading companies approach an imperative transition to digital? Design thinking is the only chance for the healthcare industry to improve both the provider and patient experiences. It is way of thinking and working that focuses on user needs, technological possibilities and business requirements. It is an iterative process that drives innovation, which is desperately needed by an industry that lives and dies by customer experience and yet is operating at a level far behind the times.

Unlike other industries, healthcare services are essential and often a matter of life and death, traditionally placing these organizations in a position of power. This has allowed them to remain digitally backward with little fear of consequence to their business. As a result, practitioners have been stuck using medical systems designed 20 years ago, limiting the way that they’ve interacted with patients and offer care.

However, transitioning to digital has now become a “do or die” imperative for healthcare organizations as they compete with digitally native players to meet modern-day customer expectations.

Most design studios and tech startups focus on “innovative” patient experiences: cool self-diagnostic tools, fancy medical wearables and personal health predictors. Indeed, these are the sexiest part of the job. But those advancements don’t address the fundamental issues that stagnate the healthcare industry. Research has found that people are first and foremost looking for improvements on baseline services, such as cost estimators, access to personal health records and post-care instructions.

Shifting from a process-centric organization to a user-first experience isn’t just a matter of good UI and cool wearables. It’s a process of carrying fundamental transformation that impacts and involves all layers of the organization: technology, operations, patient management, sales, etc.

Transitioning to digital has now become a “do or die” imperative for healthcare organizations as they compete with digitally native players to meet modern day customer expectations.

The following are three areas of focus where design thinking can transform complex systems.

Concentrate on process efficiency and optimization of information

The intrinsic complexity of the healthcare systems is unavoidable, and the cost to maintain it is astronomical. Compliance, data collection, security risks, lack of trust in third party systems or just old habits (in 2017, 40 percent of doctor’s offices were still using fax machines to order lab tests) generate roadblocks, slow down organizations and frustrate users, allowing for new players in the space to take over.

Like decluttering your garage, the first unavoidable step is to put old stuff in the dumpster. This is also true for legacy healthcare systems. Although it’s perceived as painful and problematic, by using design thinking, it can actually be fun, and the benefits are colossal. From a user standpoint, a decluttered process flow will appear clear, smart and fluid.

Put users at the center of the system

Traditionally, healthcare products have been built to serve the logistics and operations of the healthcare company first and the customers second, or last. As people are forced to use them anyway to communicate or access critical information, those products remain poorly designed and convoluted at best.

People don’t want to fill out a form, they want to get their blood test results quickly and conveniently. Focusing first on fundamental user motivations and discovering unmet needs represents a culture shift for many large companies. If these organizations bring on user research and design thinking as a practice and build hybrid, multi-disciplinary teams combining designers, engineers, operations, sales, etc., to break traditional silos, it will force user-centered design to become part of the internal process and culture.

Generate patients’ and population data and insights

There are countless missed opportunities to make sense of collected medical data to inform individual- and population-level insights for prevention and care. Unstructured data and clinical notes are stored on antiquated, incompatible systems and mostly rely on individual expertise to decipher them.

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