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UX in Healthcare: An Emerging Imperative

Healthcare systems – hardware, software, and processes – are facing a third stage in their evolution: desirability. And it is changing how everyone from pharmaceutical companies to hospitals and insurance companies are doing business.

Three Stages of Evolution
In terms of human-centered design, the healthcare industry has three stages of evolution.

The first stage was focused on efficacy. Can it improve patient outcomes? Can we prove it? This was a major advance over philosophizing about treatments and using the treatment without strong evidence.

The second stage, the one that we are still working in, added in a focus on patient safety. Human factors practices were added to ensure that the system caused as little safety-related human error as possible. Standards were added for incorporating human factors into medical product design. The FDA increased scrutiny on this topic from there being nothing to a full robust process.

The third stage, just starting now, focuses on desirability. Do people want to use it? Does it look nice? Does it seem easy to use? That is, does it have a good user experience (UX)?

Industry Influencers
We’re seeing three major influences bringing about this third stage of design evolution.

The consumerization of IT is causing enterprise workers in every category to expect work applications to have the same sense of aesthetics and ease of use as do their consumer products. Closely related, the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) trend is providing freedom to workers to use their own mobile devices to access corporate data – and all the other applications on their phone are well-designed.

The wearables trend is adding in good design and health-related information that consumers are expecting to be integrated. If they have to take a step down to use a regulated device or application, they will be confused and less compliant.

Finally, and uniquely to healthcare, the payer switch from fee-for-service to Fee For Outcome (Wikipedia, US programs, UK programs) is causing efficacy and value to be top of mind. This switch has already had a major effect on hospitals and is only starting to sift through the rest of the healthcare ecosystem.

Outcomes are driven by user and patient behavior – particularly compliance. Any barrier to use should be lowered. There is a lot of UX decisions in managing these barriers.

In addition to these trends, there are the normal cost-based influencers: high healthcare turnover and high training requirements drive cost and errors.

A Strategic Imperative
Expectations from consumer technology demand improved design. Requirements from payers demand improved compliance. The FDA has finalized recommendations for collecting and including Patient Preference Information.

What does this mean for you? It means adopting user experience practices. It means human-centered design. It means focus on aesthetics because that drives perceived usability, which drives adoption. It means pay special focus on aesthetics and how the device fits into the life of the consumer, both physical and digital.

Safety is no longer enough. Your patients and caregivers have to want to use the technology.

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