Much of the rhetoric surrounding healthcare innovation is happy. Smiling young people run along a river on a sunny day, then check their FitBits. Smiling parents hold iPads while they connect to a smiling pediatrician over video chat. Smiling nurses use state-of-the-art equipment as they treat plain-faced but nonetheless hopeful patients.
At its core, though, healthcare is not happy. Sick people want to get better, not receive constant reminders that they are sick. Medical professionals want to help patients, not select an ICD-10 code from a pull-down menu. No one wants to think about what it will all cost.
Thus the recent Healthcare Experience Refactored (HxR) conference in Boston challenged those building the healthcare technology of tomorrow to design apps and devices for users who are at their worst, not their best – to bring empathy into the user experience, to make systems simple, and, ultimately, put the “care” back in “healthcare.”
As we all know, it’s a laudable mission but a difficult one. A billion-dollar innovation is a mere drop in the bucket in a $3 trillion (and growing) market. On top of that, the most impactful and necessary innovations – improvements to clinical workflow and data integration – garner little attention alongside this week’s latest fitness apps or wearable tech updates. Consumers (and the media) care less about the accuracy of the heart rate monitor or pedometer because, look, the watch band comes in fuchsia now!
Clinical workflow and data integration matter because the narrative matters. STAT News recently ran a thoughtful piece lamenting the loss of the patient story in healthcare’s rush to implement electronic health record (EHR) systems. Digitization has no doubt benefitted an industry bogged down with paper, but boiling down a patient’s medical history to a series of bullet points and billing codes fails to capture that patient’s motivations, goals, and obstacles in their journey to better health and wellness. It also chills the patient-physician relationship, as the conversation is interrupted to input information or wait for load screens to disappear.
For too long, the end users of healthcare IT have been treated as an afterthought as paper-based and manual processes are simply replicated using a screen, mouse, and keyboard. With no thought given to workflow or usability, pull-down menus, lists, free-form text fields, and customizations abound – not to mention frustration. That’s why it’s time to kill the patient portal, ditch the cluttered EHR, scrap the standalone schedule, and smash the fax machine.
Healthcare applications and devices in all their forms must be designed for end users, not outdated workflows. They must return joy to the practice of medicine and allow patients to live with their conditions, not cope with them.
Above all, systems should serve patients, physicians, and nurses when they are at their very worst – in the moments following a crushing diagnosis, for example, or the final hours of a double shift in the ED. If users can stand the systems then, there’s no telling what they can do when they are happy.