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Why is human-centered design in healthcare so important?

Last updated

25 September 2023


Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Jean Kaluza

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Let’s state the obvious here: Healthcare is vital. That means everyone in the system needs an optimal experience, whether that’s pamedical staff, administrators, or patients.

And that’s where design thinking comes in. Good design can make doctors’ work less stressful. Patients can feel more at ease during unpleasant procedures. And admin can ensure referrals don’t vanish into the ether.

Let’s learn more about design thinking in healthcare and check out some examples. 

Good design in healthcare is changing everything

Designing for healthcare in a human-centered way means considering the needs of everyone in the system, including patients and employees. 

Every touchpoint matters. Designers must consider design principles throughout the entire healthcare process. That includes tech that patients encounter, like appointment booking apps. It also covers tools that administrators use and share with clinicians. 

Let’s get into examples of how human-centered design can improve healthcare for everyone. 

Simplifying the appointment booking process

A case study published on Bootcamp looked into the frustrations of patients and doctors. The researcher sought to design an app to solve their problems. 

They noted pain points on both sides, with patients struggling to book appointments and doctors being unable to manage their clinic timings. 

When patients can book an appointment from their devices in a few seconds, this reduces frustration compared to making a phone call and waiting on hold for a long time.

When doctors work with appointment apps, they gain the ability to easily manage their day and inform patients of any emergencies where they need to cancel. 

Two leading telemedicine apps include Amwell and Doctor on Demand. These apps allow patients to book doctor appointments with clear pricing. That means patients can speak to a doctor for symptom assessment for peace of mind and early treatment. 

Helping patients with comfort and rehabilitation

Apps aren’t just for making appointments: They can also be crucial in patient recovery and condition management.

For example, NXTI is an award-winning product developed for stroke patients with hemiplegia—paralysis of one side of the body. 

These smart tights contain sensors that work alongside an app. They aid rehabilitation by alerting patients if they put too much body weight on one side for too long. 

Almost 800,000 people experience a stroke every year in the US. Another 2.8 million experience a traumatic brain injury (TBI). 

Barrow Neurological Institute recommends many apps for neurorehabilitation, from mindfulness to word searches. Brain-training, language, exercise, and problem-solving apps can be life-changing for patients recovering from neurological conditions. 

Reducing missed appointments

Harvard Business Review discusses how design thinking can overcome missed appointments or "no-shows" at medical facilities. This common issue costs the US healthcare system $150 billion a year.

The authors note various issues can cause patients to miss appointments, including transportation challenges and difficulty navigating large hospitals. 

One famous transportation company is looking to change that: Uber. The taxi company has created a spin-off company called Uber Health. It aims to improve patient outcomes by filling in transport gaps. And how it works is pretty cool. 

The patient’s care coordinator requests a trip or delivery on demand or for a future appointment. From there, the patient receives a message or call with the trip details and another when the driver is on the way. The care coordinator gets to see the trip in real time, so they can ensure everything runs smoothly. 

Healthcare facilities can also use Uber Health to transport visitors and employees.

Improving design reduces stress for patients

Human-centered design can make a huge difference in how patients experience medical procedures. 

For example, Philips created the Ambient Experience to improve what is often a stressful experience for patients—CT scanning. 

The technology reduces the number of scans needed, creating architecture that supports well-being. It also gives patients more control over their environment.

We’ve seen the impressive results of this technology worldwide. Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Chicago has seen a 30% decrease in sedation of children of 3–7 years. 

In the Netherlands, Catherina Hospital Eindhoven discovered that 73% of patients are more comfortable thanks to the tech. 

The Children’s Hospital for Wales, UK, surveyed those who had visited the old radiology suite and the improved Philips suite. 72% of caregivers indicated the new department was a better experience for their child. 

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Designing for clinicians

Clinicians increasingly depend on digital tools for tasks like staff communication and treatment research. As a 2022 study on Industry 4.0 and digitalization noted, AI and going digital generally improve healthcare quality while reducing costs for medical clinics. 

That brings us to the importance of good design. If clinicians struggle to use the tech that can make their jobs easier, it’ll impact their service quality and increase frustration. 

Burnout is a never-ending concern for doctors. Medscape’s 2023 Physician Burnout & Depression Report discovered that depression and burnout cases are rising. 61% of doctors attribute their burnout to bureaucracy, including administrative tasks. 

This is why design thinking is key when creating clinical software. 

We’ve already seen some positive changes. A UX focus can make it easier for doctors and nurses to work with EHRs. For example, a simple feature like adjusting screen sizes can make analyzing medical images much easier. 

On a similar note, many smartphone apps give doctors faster access to vital information.

Notable apps include:

  • Medscape retrieves the latest healthcare articles from multiple sources. 

  • 3D4Medical offers anatomical animations and includes all 12 body systems.

  • Visual DX is a comprehensive medical image library with over 90,000 peer-reviewed images.

While medical practitioners can access this information in other ways, user-friendly apps save valuable time.

Designing for patients

Design can either make patients feel more at ease or increase their stress levels. People entering healthcare settings are often dealing with conditions that induce anxiety. That means it’s especially important for their experience to be calming. 

Design can also boost or harm the bottom line of healthcare providers as patients can choose where they go. They may be reluctant to return to an intimidating or stressful facility. 

If a digital onboarding experience at another facility is effortless in comparison, why would they choose the facility that hasn’t embraced novel technology?

Speaking of innovative tech, patients have many options for their healthcare journey. 

Some of the best include:

  • MySugr, which allows people with diabetes to track their blood sugar data. 

  • Heal provides primary care to older adults at home for no extra cost. 

  • MDacne gives patients with acne immediate access to dermatologists, providing customized skincare to treat the condition on a subscription basis. 

  • EyeCareLive lets patients access practitioners to renew their eyecare prescriptions and discuss conditions like dry eye. 

Designing for administrators

Administrators perform numerous essential functions at healthcare facilities. Their physical surroundings and the software they use can affect their well-being, speed, and accuracy.  

With so many responsibilities to stay on top of, well-designed technology can really enhance their workday and productivity. That results in better patient care, fewer complaints, and a reduced backlog.

Some of the best apps for healthcare administrators include:

  • Epocrates is a multifunction app with everything from medication insurance coverage to the latest medical news. 

  • The Prevention TaskForce app displays appropriate screening, preventative medication, and counseling for patients based on government recommendations. 

  • Cerner Ambulatory manages outpatient workflow with impressive interoperability across platforms and providers so doctors can focus on patients and their safety. 

  • ReferralMD ensures patient referrals don’t get lost in the system, improving patient outcomes and facility revenue. 

In summary

Almost 84% of American adults and 94% of children had an appointment with a healthcare provider in 2022. With so many people accessing healthcare, it makes sense for it to be patient-friendly. And design thinking can ensure that.

Innovative technology is a game-changer for ease of access to healthcare, service quality, and so much more. It also improves everyone’s experience with the system. Certain tech companies are forging ahead, leaving others in the dust. 

Working with a HIPAA-ready AI company like Dovetail can endlessly enhance the patient experience. It can also ensure your company is at the top of its game and always pushing for better. 

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