Human-centered design expert shares 4 tips for engaging patients

Set the bar high: Don’t be afraid to steal ideas that delight people and make them want to use the technology.
By Tom Sullivan
09:16 AM
Pop Health Forum Amy Schwartz

CHICAGO — Patient engagement is so much more than simply getting people to come in and see a doctor, fill and take their prescriptions, arrange follow-up tests and other basic interactions with the healthcare system.

“I would argue that engagement means you have actually gotten to healthier behaviors,” said Amy Schwartz, Human Centric Design Thought Leader at Battelle. 

How, then, can healthcare organizations and software developers attain that level of engagement?

Schwartz, speaking at the HIMSS and Healthcare IT News Pop Health Forum here on Tuesday afternoon, offered four tips.

1. Gain an empathetic understanding of users and context of use through contextual research. 

Designing in isolation is rarely a good thing. Instead, developers should be out in the environment where users will interact with the product before they design anything. Schwartz suggested, for instance, really looking at what the experience of getting a colonoscopy is like from a patient perspective. “Understanding the experience is important to patients,” Schwartz explained. “That includes lifestyle and values because if a colonoscopy means taking a day off from work and needing a ride home, those may be deal killers.”

2. Look outside of healthcare for inspiration. 

Amazon doesn’t think of people as “customer populations,” and healthcare organizations need to likewise focus on individuals when designing apps. Schwartz also pointed to energy companies that send monthly bills comparing a customer to their neighbors and, instead of showing how many kilowatts they could reduce, they tell them how much money they could save. “Shamelessly steal ideas, it’s okay.”

3. Involve users in the design process. 

This naturally builds on the first principle concerning empathy. Developers should include not just the end users but, instead, anybody touching the app in any way, shape or form, meaning patients, family members, care teams, caregivers, other support people.

4. Prototype and iterate. 

Consider a minimal viable prototype approach. Start with that and know that constraints can be a good aspect of design. From there, draw out how the system would work and get feedback from those people before spending anytime coding software. “Designing early versions of tools and giving those to users empowers them.”

Schwartz also told attendees to consider the impact of lifestyle and values because you want something to be usable but really have to go way beyond that and create technologies that people actually enjoy using.  

“Design is the detail. Those really matter,” Schwartz said. “Let’s set the bar high to really move the needle and make Americans healthier.”

Twitter: SullyHIT
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 Read our coverage of HIMSS Pop Health Forum in Chicago.
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