Why Healthcare Has Been Left Out of the UX Revolution
No one except my cofounder knows this, until now. I’d always wanted to be a doctor - an oncologist to be precise. I was raised in a household with a shop-teacher dad who put power drills under the Christmas tree - so it’s my second-nature to fix things. I’ve always been fascinated with human challenges and experiences, how we engage with these experiences and ultimately how these experiences can be better and matter more to us. How can products and how we engage with them be optimized?
This led me to a career as a UX designer and product strategist, working deep in the technology trenches of Silicon Valley for two decades with both startups and Fortune 50 companies, but I still hold onto that vision of being a doctor. I still daydream about impacting healthcare.
So I turned my attention to other industries - some of the most innovative and impactful industries that shape the very fabric of our lives - construction, military, healthcare - and found that they had essentially been left out of the user experience (UX) revolution.
Why haven’t these industries bought into or invested in empowering their leaders, practitioners and professionals with a better user experience? These industries have more than just poor UX in common. They are regimented, hierarchical and highly-regulated, and for good reason. There is an inertia toward the status quo because it is a known entity. It’s safe. It’s vetted. It’s not a liability.
How is it that the industry pioneering STEM cell research continues to burden its professionals with clunky technologies that are inefficient, both in terms of time and how they process and store data?
Ask any healthcare professional about their relationship with technology and their facial expression will immediately change. Technology does not translate to easier, faster or even better. It conjures up recent memory of complex, data-entry heavy, multi-screen interfaces like an EHR. Technology means something else to learn or do or spend time on instead of seeing a patient. When the patient is staring at the back of his or her practitioner, the practitioner is staring at … technology.
Not everyone works on the same team, or for the same employer
Providing healthcare takes a team supporting the healthcare practitioner - not just the doctor who sees the patient and is most readily associated with the care. I first heard this notion over a cup of coffee in Boston one afternoon, meeting with someone who I thought was very interesting and would ultimately become my future co-founder. He believes that everyone in healthcare is a provider - not just the physician who is prescribing the treatment plan or the phlebotomist who is drawing your blood. Every single person who is involved in the management of a patient’s care is also a provider, from setting up your appointments to processing your insurance. This not only needs to be recognized, but deserves to be a true optimization opportunity. Healthcare providers deserve solutions to be designed around this very concept, so that they can all work together better.
It gets more complicated to work together when care plans span across specialties, clinics, even hospital systems. Even within a single hospital, not every healthcare provider is employed by that hospital. This makes for challenges in coordinating care .
PHI creates a security challenge
We all want our health information to be private and confidential. Perhaps the most daunting challenge in creating innovation is the sheer volume and sanctity of the personal health information that is intricately woven into every hour of work for a healthcare provider.
Any new technology introduced to the healthcare industry must be HIPAA compliant, and frequently a BAA needs to be signed. This duo of security needs is often enough to stifle innovation or prolong it. What’s more is that many technologies claim to be HIPAA compliant, but are not, creating more skepticism and hesitation around embracing innovations as they emerge.
As a UX professional, I’ve always viewed transparency as a core tenant in creating better experiences. You cannot have an authentic experience without it.
Healthcare professionals are burned out
The American Medical Association reports that 44% of physicians exhibit at least one symptom of burnout. This is an epidemic in the field of medicine and it’s not solely a byproduct of grueling schedules or stressful work. It’s the sticky notes, emails, hallways conversations and unexpected phone calls that all go into constantly managing the ever-evolving care plans for patients. It’s non-stop and the intel is jotted on whatever is nearby, stored in whatever headspace is left, and it leaves the healthcare provider overwhelmed and burned out. The current suite of resources for healthcare providers often add to the cognitive load - instead of easing the administrative burden.
If the growing epidemic of healthcare practitioner burnout is not sufficient to movitave us to make their professional experiences more seamless, then the current global pandemic should be. Healthcare practices, like so many other industries, are adjusting to working remotely, meeting higher demand than ever before, and often with a smaller staff due to cutbacks. For the healthcare providers still on the frontlines, and for those who are there for our healthcare needs as usual, those feelings of burnout are stronger than ever.
There are iterative improvements that we can make to improve how healthcare providers work together - at a practice level, in a single hospital, or in a new research setting. There are also clear UX wins from other industries that can be ported over to help teams collaborate more easily, access information more seamlessly, and perform their work without feeling completely drained at the end of the workday. But we should be pushing for more, and demanding that the big wins apply to the critical industries. Healthcare shouldn’t be left out of the UX revolution anymore. It should be leading it, because all of our health depends on it.