Bridging gaps with design: the human-centric approach in healthcare

Martin Sandhu
January 2024

Healthcare is undergoing a transformative shift towards a human-centric approach, driven by design thinking. This shift is not just about medical advancements; it's about understanding and catering to the human experiences at the heart of healthcare. Although at first look this may seem like a cost-intensive exercise and thus some might question its practicality, modern innovations such as tailored health tracking apps and e-medicine have proven that here is an intense appetite from customers and patients for it. In addition, the benefits for healthcare systems when we put the patient at the core of device design or medical protocol have ripple effects over time and send savings straight to the bottom line.

At nuom, we champion this transformation through a service design approach, carrying out primary research with a diverse range of users to ensure our solutions meet the needs of all, not just some. Our vast experience spans a variety of sectors and conditions, from menopause healthcare and femtech to early diagnosis and treatment of hepatits. This blog explores how this empathetic approach is bridging gaps in healthcare, leading to better outcomes and more inclusive health solutions.

Empathy and co-creation in health solution design

The concept of co-creation is central to human-centric healthcare design. By collaborating with patients and healthcare professionals, solutions are tailored to the real needs and preferences of users. Since patients are regarded as customers, which makes them the value co-creators in healthcare services, understanding their needs can give healthcare providers a better insight of the improvement spaces for healthcare services. Satisfaction is the core outcome measure for healthcare service which can be used to evaluate the performance of healthcare providers, enhance service training programs, and obtain insights into management strategies, according to a study.

nuom’s work with NHS Digital on the hepatitis C self-testing platform exemplifies this approach. Through primary research and co-creation with at-risk groups, we developed a solution that was not only effective but also intuitive and accessible. We looked at our target patients and learned about their cultural heritage, language preferences and potential stumbling blocks in order to create a tool that worked seamlessly for them. We eliminated bottlenecks (be they linguistics, cultural or taboo) and delivered a service that was fit for purpose. 

This approach resonates globally, with countries like the Netherlands and Denmark leading in patient-centric design. The importance of including patients in the design process, as emphasised by experts like Bertalan Meskó and Dave deBronkart, cannot be understated. They argue that “we need to shift patient centricity from a relatively passive process, driven by industry needs, into a far more active, collaborative process driven by both parties' needs and preferences. To build this new world of practice and workflow, we simply must engage with patients as true partners.”

Service design for AI in healthcare

As AI-based healthcare proliferates, the necessity of a service design approach becomes evident. This approach ensures seamless integration of AI in a way that empowers both healthcare professionals and patients. AI algorithms can look at medical images, such as X-rays and MRIs and produce accurate diagnosis with greater accuracy and speed than human radiologists, often detecting diseases like as cancer at earlier stages.

Navigating the complexities of patient experience, data ethics, and socio-political challenges is crucial. In some ways, health data is unlike other data. However, concerns about privacy take on an even bigger life when it concerns our personal medical information.

Yet in other ways, healthcare is more suited to data and the innovation that follows than almost any other sector — with the depth and coverage of healthcare data providing unique opportunities. Navigating complexity can come with even greater gains, and the number of applications for medical data in health research are seemingly never-ending. The rewards of getting it right are profound, with not just lives saved but longer, healthier and happier lives too.

At nuom, we advocate for service design that supports AI-transformation through patient-centric co-creation. This involves designing transparent touchpoints, simplifying complexities, and creating feedback loops for continual improvement. Building trust in AI systems is essential for their adoption, and this can only be achieved if these systems are understandable and integrate the human side of healthcare processes effectively. We need to be transparent about the strengths and limitations of AI with patients from the very beginning, and invest in accurate and simple communications across the board. 

Optimising user experience in Digital Health

The digitalisation of healthcare has necessitated the optimisation of user experience (UX) across digital health tools and platforms. Good UX in healthcare is not just about usability; it can be life-saving. Good healthcare design with the user at its core can enable patients to make more informed decisions, and lower anxiety and uncertainty. It can reduce errors and thereby increase diagnostic and treatment efficiency. And it can also reduce cognitive load, removing one of the factors that frequently lead to practitioner burnout.

Conversely, poor UX can turn users away or create problems, as often seen in legacy tech. Some go as far as claiming that bad patient experience can kill. Medical errors are the third leading cause of death in America. Someone making a mistake in a hospital is statistically more likely to kill you than severe lung disease or a stroke. In Europe, over 1 in 10 hospitalisations involve a medical error, according to the WHO. Patient safety improvement projects, including the design of better healthcare technology and services, can lead to 95 000 fewer deaths, 260,000 fewer incidents of permanent disability, and 3.2 million fewer hospital days, per year.

At nuom, we understand the importance of UX design driven by patient and user insights – and we have reasons to be optimistic that this trend will only go up. In the UK, the NHS is focusing on user-friendly interfaces for health applications, while in the USA, companies like Epic Systems and Cerner are refining the UX of their electronic health record systems. The usability of MedTech is constantly being improved through user and stakeholder feedback, highlighting the global trend towards UX-focused health technology.

In closing, the human-centric approach in healthcare, underpinned by design thinking, is not just a trend; it's a vital shift towards more effective, empathetic, and inclusive healthcare solutions. By placing empathy at the forefront and embracing co-creation, service design, and UX optimisation, we can bridge gaps in healthcare, leading to better patient experiences and outcomes.

As we continue to navigate this transformative era, it's clear that the future of healthcare is one where technology and human-centric design synergise to create solutions that truly meet the needs of all patients. And as all of us, irrespective of our background, race or location are bound to be a patient at some point, it pays to support this trend and embed human-centric design as much as possible.

Want to know more? 

Discover more about the human-centric approach in healthcare. Visit our Tech Trends for in-depth insights and access our comprehensive "Digital Health Horizon: 24 trends for 2024" report by providing your name and email. Join us in exploring innovative solutions that put patients at the heart of healthcare and provide the cornerstone of tomorrow’s practices.

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