I’m far away from being a specialist in health care. In fact, all I know about health is the same as every other person who has never suffered from a serious and/or chronic disease. I had a flu a few times in my life, I suffered from allergies from time to time, and I even had some anxiety episodes, but nothing too serious or life-threatening. Nothing that made me actually stop to learn more about healthcare.
But that changed around my thirties when I started having regular migraines crises. I suffered from strong headaches when I was a young student, but mostly disappeared when I stopped taking birth control pills. I never worried too much because it was pretty clear they were due to menstrual cycles and stress. But migraines are different. They don’t disappear with medicine, they prevent me from working, watching TV and sleeping well. They are very energy draining and have prompted me to dive into articles and study as much as I can about them in an attempt to get better. I went to different neurologists, underwent several medical tests and stopped drinking alcohol and coffee. I started doing yoga, went to a chiropractor , started psychotherapy, and much more. It takes a lot of self-dedication, but I am getting better and learning to control the episodes.
I’ve learned a lot with my crisis, particularly how important it is to have a supporting network around you. When you have a chronic illness you desperately look for professional help. Someone you can talk to that cares about your problem and wants to help you get better. It’s very hard being a patient, yet everybody will be one at a certain point in life.
By coincidence, in the middle of this ‘dizziness storm’, I started working in a Digital Health company. I was going to design an application for documenting Patient Reported Outcomes. Before that I knew nothing about Value Based Health Care nor any other medical terminology, but I knew a lot about design and user experience.
User Experience Design is, as the name implies, about the user. It is about understanding what they need to better solve their problems. It is about receiving constant feedback from users to enhance the products for them and last but not least, it is about the business itself. A company based on the SaaS model, for example, provides a tool for people to perform certain tasks. It is likely that they will choose the best tool they can find to perform the required tasks. That being said, the better the product is, the more users it will most likely have.
One of the coolest things about being a designer is that there is scope to learn about many different fields. If you work for fashion e-commerce you can learn about fashion. If you work for a Fintech you can learn about money and economy. If you work for a health company you can learn about health and for the past few months, I’ve been learning a lot about this area.
Value-Based Health Care is a model that aims to improve the health care system. It aims to provide value by reducing medical costs while increasing outcomes. The main goal is to keep track of Patient Reported Outcomes and improve the patient’s experience during and after treatment. That pretty much means knowing the patient and collecting constant feedback about their development. It provides doctors with structured knowledge to determine if the treatment they prescribed is working and if the patient is getting better. It can also flag if the patient is going through any difficulty, like sleeping disorders, for example. The use of Patient Reported Outcomes doesn’t mean that the doctor won’t see the patient. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, doctors can receive feedback from the patient in between or even before consultations. If well performed, it can provide valuable insights for doctors as to how best to treat their patients and manage their symptoms and also learn if what they are doing is right.
Here is where it gets easy to draw a parallel between UX Design and Value-Based Health Care. One collects feedback from users to improve products, the other collects patients’ feedback to improve their health and both providers: the designers and the doctors, learn with the process.
Designers usually know very little about health. Whilst doctors generally don’t know much about design either, but for sure they can learn with each other.
User experience designers are experts in understanding problems. They collect information from their users and test different ideas. The ‘user-centric’ mindset designers have is one of the reasons why so many design methodologies became trendy in the last few years. Everyone wants and should learn from their customers, including health providers. This doesn’t only include doctors, it also includes medical staff and big corporations like hospitals and health insurances.
On the other hand, doctors, nurses and hospital managers, for example, have the specialised knowledge a designer doesn’t have. If we talk about Digital Health companies, collaboration amongst these professionals plays a key role. Usually, the medical staff are the main users of a digital product. Essentially designers are designing for them, hence, learning from them as well. But even in these cases, patients are still the main customers of the entire health service chain. If the goal is to provide better treatments, better follow-ups and better service for patients, they should be the centre of the equation. In the end, everyone is working for their well-being, and here collaboration is even more important.
My migraine crises showed me how much the health care system still needs to improve and become more patient-focused. As a patient, I had a lot of difficulties finding good doctors and treatments that actually worked for me. As a designer, that for sure thought me a lot about empathising with the most important user of any medical product — the patient.
Patients are the ones we are working for, so it’s with them we should be working with. But the question is, how do we include the patient in the design process of medical applications?