Forbes published an article last year by Dr. Joon Yun calling for an increase in education spending with a focus on educating children for a future in healthcare. Dr. Yun identifies two converging trends that will fundamentally change the healthcare system on the demand side: an aging US population and recent changes to healthcare laws that will increase the patient role by 14%. As healthcare exchanges open up and Medicaid is expanded, more people will have easier access to healthcare than ever before. The pressure that this will put on the static supply of healthcare professionals is a significant cause for concern. The simplest solution is more doctors and healthcare professionals, but what do we do until we can educate and train them?
Increase in demand, level supply
There is no way around it; the US is set for a major spike in patient numbers while the number of doctors will remain the same. Until we can overhaul our healthcare education system and pump out more healthcare professionals, we need to start thinking about using the technology that we have at hand today to deal with the issue.
This is where we at Fresh Tilled Soil see the opportunity. The future of healthcare will allow doctors and patients to have the greatest amount of time interacting with each other and the least possible time wading through bureaucracy or paperwork. Success will be had by those who can provide information on or pull information from multiple devices, with easy access even in low connectivity areas. Game changers will remove the barriers between the information and the treatment.
So how can it be done?
In order to get the most out of the technology of today and of the future, UX/UI design is going to play a key role. The key will be designing around the needs of the patient and the doctor. What will help us achieve this are products that make the patient process flow as seamless as possible, whether or not the user of a particular product is the actual patient. We can look at both the user experience of the doctor and the patient as two obvious areas of improvement and opportunity, but what about the rest of the hospital? We should be thinking about where the bottlenecks are and what we can do to improve the experience at each touchpoint. If the healthcare system of the future is patient-centric, then everything we do must have the user experience of the patient in mind.
Just think what a clean interface on a mobile app could do for a physician performing home visits, updating one patient’s medical history while en route to the next. What if a paramedic could gather, send, and update information on an emergency, preparing the ER before the patient was even wheeled through the hospital doors? This is all possible if we create experiences that allow our healthcare professionals to act as humans trying to save lives and be as lean as any business.
Solutions exist, and can be built upon
Perplexed and fascinated by the issue, a group of us at Fresh Tilled Soil sat down to discuss solutions. How can we design the healthcare experience of the near future using what may already be out there, and how can we build upon it with new products?
The technology that exists in many hospitals and doctor’s offices was designed to make the recording and storage of data efficient. However, it has since become a task in and of itself for staff and medical professionals to record the data needed, limiting their time and interaction with the patient. One hypothetical solution could be voice recognition to input the data, allowing the doctor to both listen and acknowledge the needs of the patient while building a more reliable and more profound collection of data. The technology exists (Siri, Xbox One, and Amazon Echo are all consumer products that take advantage of it), but perhaps an opportunity lies in its implementation in a healthcare setting.
We also recognized that there are technologies that currently exist that will create greater efficiencies in the delivery of healthcare. Telemedicine (teleconferencing with a doctor) can be used to diagnose simple ailments, offer recommendations, and even provide prescriptions. This allows the patient to visit a doctor in his own space, time, and convenience, while clearing up clinics from patient backlog, allowing doctors to spend time in person with patients with greater needs. Apple’s new HealthKit allows a person to manage his own fitness and health data. In the future we envision bringing these two technologies together – a patient could allow a doctor access to his medical data while being seen via webcam. It expands the scope of what the doctor is able to accomplish and oversteps previous limitations. Our vision is not just technology and design, but combining technologies to create a more focused experience.
You can almost hear the angst coming through the screen. Focus on preventative care! Focus on fitness. And that is definitely a key component to solving the larger problems in the healthcare services and industry. Making sure people are healthier before they need to see a doctor and promoting healthy living and fitness will be key to keeping the masses of patients away from doctors’ doors. “An apple a day,” after all.
There are experiences out there that can help us track our daily lives. Wearables like Fitbit, or more sports-specific data monitors such as adidas miCoach, help us track movement, calorie intake, and burn. They provide knowledge. The cycling app Strava (which has many people in our office obsessed) added an element of competition to simple tracking. Going up against your peers for best times over distances and trails adds an addictive gaming element to what is, at its core, an activity tracker. There is something we can learn from these technologies and applications: customer delight is at the very core of a good experience.
In healthcare we are dealing with a person who is by very definition unwell, and quite possibly at her most vulnerable. Empathy becomes key, but our approach is all negative. We fill the experience with negative words, negative connotations, and ultimately what is wrong with a person. Crafting an experience that is more personal and supportive is a great step forward. Striving towards consumer delight and making people feel more positive by engaging is a way that we can turn it around. In the right environment, if we can get people excited about inputting health data and more positive about their experiences when they are unwell, then we could see greater recovery times from illness, injuries, and surgeries.
The future is designing the experience
Healthcare is an essential industry that needs to be able to cope with an ever-increasing demand. If we take the opportunity to design the experience of the future at every point in the healthcare system, then we can not only maintain the high standards of the system but improve it greatly, along with the well-being of the population as a whole.
Attention to designing the experience is key. Having a meaningful, even delightful experience with your care provider or health and fitness apps will prove critical to managing the health of our nation and our healthcare industry.