How human-centered design is changing the game

Can you think of an experience that all people have to go through and most are terrified of? We’ll give you a hint: It involves needles.

Now imagine if injections were a thing of the past. They might be soon.

Human-centered design is changing the way we think about healthcare. Bold new ideas are surfacing, all with one thing in common: They evolve by asking how we can improve the individual’s experience of healthcare.

For decades, service in the healthcare industry has been based on the need to manage sick patients and, only very recently, a push towards prevention of illness through vaccination and behaviour change. Because of this evolution, healthcare systems are structured around providing services to sick patients.

When you’re sick, you go to the doctor or a hospital because you need specialised tools and medication that can’t be administered at home (at least, not without big costs). But why should you go to a hospital if you’re healthy and trying to stay that way? 

More and more, an innovative use of technology is serving consumers who are keen to take illness prevention and health maintenance into their own hands.

The empowered patient is resulting in fewer doctor’s visits and an increase in, not only the demand for total transparency, but also the sales of self-care products like over the counter medication and use of telemedicine. A trend towards more value-based, qualitative doctor’s consults could be on the rise. A recent Nielsen report supports this notion:

As a result of rising health care costs, consumers are making adjustments in several ways: making trade-offs: taking less medicine; taking an OTC medication first; asking for cheaper alternatives; and side-stepping visits to the doctor altogether.

According to a J Walter Thompson Intelligence report, The Future 100, major trends in health include at-home blood testing, mobile platforms that coordinate managed care and the ability to flag a need for mental healthcare through social media. Wearable technology has also long been recognised as a disruptor to the doctor-as-frontline model of healthcare.

Technology is an important tool for redesigning healthcare delivery, but it’s not the starting point. Understanding the individual’s experience of healthcare is.

Ask: How can we make it better?

Have you ever thought about what it must be like to have a sick child in hospital for extended periods? Aside from the fear and worry, the practical experience is tough. Sleeping in a chair next to a hospital bed. Endless junk food or vending machine meals. Rotating your other, healthy, kids between family and friends.

Nemours Children’s Hospital in Orlando has thought about this. Their facility has family lounges where families can eat and relax together as they would at home. Patient rooms have couches that turn into beds for parents, desks for siblings to do their homework and fridges for keeping non-hospital food in.

These are not just nice-to-haves that look good on a marketing brochure. They are a sign of the type of thinking that should be more pervasive in healthcare today: Human-centered design. 

Using the same mindset, a company called Portal Instruments has invented a new way of administering injectable medication: “Our needle-free delivery system administers a narrow stream of medication, about the size of a strand of hair, through the skin in less than half a second.”

If injections are almost history, imagine what else is possible.