HxD Conference has designs on smarter healthcare

Todd Park

"We're in a classically disruptive moment right now," said newly-minted U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park, speaking Monday at the Healthcare Experience Design (HxD) conference, "from which more good will come than we can possibly imagine."

The HxD conference, organized by Mad*Pow design agency and Claricode, a developer of medical software, gathered academics, designers, developers and user experience experts – from MIT, Stanford, Mayo Clinic, Kaiser Permanente, Siemens, Allscripts and more – for a day-long confab aimed at rethinking the ways design and philosophy could be brought to bear on electronic health records, mHealth apps, medical devices, clinician workflow and the patient experience.

Park, exuberant and enthusiastic as ever, sang the praises of the galaxy of innovative apps developed so far under the auspices of the Health Data Initiative (HDI), launched during Park's stint as Health and Human Services CTO, in conjunction with the Institute of Medicine, which has unlocked troves of government health data, seeking to catalyze an "self-propelled, open ecosystem of innovation" by which private-sector developers put that data to use and improve health.

The project is in "turbo-overdrive," Park said – and should only go forward further and faster now that HHS will be doubling the amount of data on healthdata.gov in next six months.

Earlier in the day, however, Devorah Klein, principal at Continuum, a Boston-based design consultancy, cautioned that not all mHealth apps are created equal – even when a lot of thought is put into their design, some fail to achieve the desired effect: actual, real-world health improvement.

She mentioned the "marginal and sometimes even negative impact of certain well-designed approaches" to apps addressing wellness issues such as smoking cessation and weight loss – areas which are fraught with risks of setbacks and failure for even the most-well-intentioned patients.

"If you can't prevent failure, you need to accept that it will happen and design for it," said Klein, who noted that information overload and "shaming and blaming" are entirely counterproductive strategies. Good wellness apps will have mechanisms built into their design approaches for the inevitable slippage: "People need the tools to fail, not just to succeed."

On the EHR front, Jill Reed, user experience research manager at Allscripts, described how the firm went about trying to design an iPad-based health record that "physicians will actually use – and not loathe."

Among its approaches: recognizing that no single device is perfect for each situation; ensuring that the task at hand is the "right one for the device," rather than vice-versa; maintaining a focus on the family physician, rather than on a multitude of specialists with wildly different workflow needs; examining floor plans to gain knowledge about physical workflow and "interaction points"; and keeping an eye on the bigger picture rather than "bit by bit functionality."