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‘We keep five principles in mind when designing any healthcare-related app’

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Tech adoption in the Indian healthcare industry is growing significantly however, many times products which are designed to be technically efficient remains unattained from a patient’s understanding perspective. Sharan Grandigae, Founder and CEO, Redd Experience Design talks about the issues in the healthcare sector, particularly in the software vertical and differentiates the patients requirements in healthcare industry vs food or any other industry, to Usha Sharma

Why does design matter so much in the healthcare sector and how do interfaces help companies?
By and large, hospitals today are using more and more technology to systematise all the interactions within them. Whether it’s billing at the pharmacy or appointments with doctors, software systems are now taking care of it all. At the very heart of UX design lies understanding the psychology of a user. Being perceptive of the patient’s state of mind at the very least helps us design more relevant software and in the best-case scenario, the patient forms a bond with the hospital through the software. We’ve designed a software application for Cloudnine Hospitals where the patient primarily interacts with the hospital through the app, including finding a doctor, booking an appointment, getting assistance during consultations, keeping track of medical history and progress over time and even engaging with a community.

Why do you feel that software in the healthcare sector needs to undergo rethinking of the development process and how can it be done?
While things have been changing for the better over the last few years, we still feel that there is room for improvement when it comes to user experience design in the healthcare sector. Quite often, products are designed to be technically efficient but without keeping the patient in mind. When research has shown that bedside manner is key to a patient’s recovery, why is the patient so often not considered when designing products? Incessantly flashing or beeping bedside monitors, drab shades of walls in hospitals, confusing prescriptions or alarming colours used within apps are all contributing factors of a poor user experience. This not only affects the experience, but also the outcomes and the recovery of patients. The main issue in the healthcare sector is in the software vertical that is aimed at consumers/patients. It seems like software design in this space is borrowing heavily from other B2C industries. For example, if you’re looking for a doctor in any speciality, you can use apps that show you the rating of doctors on a five-star scale. This has been directly borrowed from food delivery apps and is useful in identifying bad restaurants. But the idea doesn’t actually translate to healthcare because the rating of doctors by other patients goes only so far as to disqualify the bad doctors and doesn’t inform a patient about who the right doctor is for them. One patient may prefer a doctor who is to-the-point and lays out the steps that need to be taken for recovery, whereas a second patient may prefer a doctor who provides reassurance. In the food delivery scenario, avoiding a bad restaurant is an acceptable outcome as it’s not life threatening, but in the healthcare industry, not getting the right doctor-patient match could mean the difference between excellent recovery and prolonged suffering.

What are some of the challenges in designing healthcare applications and products?
There are two main challenges when designing software systems for the healthcare industry — regulatory compliance and the adoption barrier of software systems. There are a number of laws surrounding healthcare and sometimes for good reason, but this also makes it tough to develop software systems because only certain methods are prescribed by regulators. For example, there are proposals for maintaining a record of all the visitors of a patient at a hospital. Although this isn’t a problem by itself, it becomes an obstacle when the law goes on to specify that this needs to be done with paper and pen. Even when workable software systems are developed, getting hospital staff and patients to use it poses a number of hurdles. Some staff worry about job security if software systems were to replace some of their functions and patients sometimes feel that they are not getting the right or the full service when using an app and fall back on human interactions.

How does UX design adapt to the emergence of new healthcare technologies?
For the most part, healthcare technology relies on end users being relatively tech-savvy, or at a minimum, able to use smartphones or tablets as their interfaces. For example, a client of ours who is involved in the breast cancer-detection field, had developed a device to be used on the patient, which interfaced with an app on a smartphone. So UX designers like us are regularly brought on to design these interfaces and make them intuitive and simple to use even by untrained users.

What goes into designing a great experience for a patient in the healthcare industry?
We always keep five principles in mind when designing any healthcare-related app, especially one that is going to be used by patients — “be sensitive”, “be relevant”, “be a lifeline to all”, “be social” and “be a part of the culture”. These principles hold the user’s needs at the core of the design process and build something that will be highly appreciated by them. Something else that must be paid close attention to is data privacy and security. Since any digital system can be hacked and patient data leaked, the design should work in measures such as requiring only relevant information at the right time. The identity of the user should always be treated as inviolable and its disclosure required only when absolutely necessary, using pseudonyms in other instances.

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