Every industry has a human element, but designing for healthcare means understanding that connection is the heart of medicine. All the new medicines and advancing technologies in healthcare mean nothing without the interactions between doctors and patients. When a person walks in complaining of an ache or pain, it’s the doctor’s job to use their knowledge and intuition to tease out details and offer a diagnosis. That process is intrinsic to the profession, and it’s why the doctor-patient relationship is so sacred.
It’s also the same process we use when building software for healthcare providers.
Facilitation is what drives innovation in healthcare software applications. We listen and learn, then find ways to make things more transparent for users on either end. Today, Table XI has worked on everything from an app to educate doctors with interactive CME-crediting lessons to software that connects homecare providers with clients and their families. Over those and other projects, we’ve picked up a few lessons on how to design healthcare software, starting with exactly how different it is.
Regulation makes healthcare software design completely different from consumer-oriented tech
When we’re working on consumer products, there are two things we’re balancing — the needs of the business and the needs of the user. When we started building healthcare software products, we had to figure out how to accommodate a third constraint — regulation. It influences so many of the decisions healthcare professionals make, playing a role in everything from how they record and store data to how they prescribe treatment. Malpractice is a major fear, and for good reason. That’s why everything in the industry is put under the microscope, to keep practitioners from making themselves any more liable than they need to be.
Keeping all patient health information (PHI) stored securely to stay on the right side of HIPAA regulations is a unique challenge in the healthcare industry. And while the bulk of the pressure falls on strong development and security work, HIPAA compliance also extends to design, informing how we manage interactions that deal with PHI.
As we brainstorm healthcare software solutions, we have to be conscious of what hesitance medical professionals may have, and what regulations may trip us up. We also have to work with healthcare providers to turn off their inner regulators, so we can let ideas take shape without shutting them down. Solving problems must come first. After that, we know that any health software we develop will be regulated as thoroughly as everything else in the industry.
Custom healthcare software development relies on healthcare providers’ trust
We’ve written a whole article on how healthcare software companies and healthcare providers can work together, but it’s worth pointing out again here how different the cultures are. Because of this regulatory mindset, many people in the healthcare industry can be hesitant to move at the pace healthcare software developers are accustomed to. After all, many medical professionals spend the bulk of their careers removed from tech, not because they don’t have an interest, but because it’s a traditional and siloed industry.
New software in healthcare can make doctors reluctant, not because they don’t see the benefits, but because they are busy enough with the work in front of them. Learning a new tool and integrating it into your practice can feel like a major obstacle. We have to be empathetic about medical professionals’ relationship to technology — often just experience with clumsy electronic health records systems — and work with them to build something that delivers real value and feels as seamless as possible, so that they’ll actually use it.
The goal of a healthcare software developer shouldn’t be to force practitioners to work at a speed they’re uncomfortable with. It should be to find a middle ground, because we’re designing for them, not the other way around. If we want to sprint and they are more inclined to crawl, we work to establish a pace that allows us to walk comfortably side-by-side.
Great healthcare software bridges the gap between physicians and patients
Much like we have to build trust with the physicians, healthcare software providers also have to understand the people on the other side. Tech can serve as a bridge between doctors and clients, allowing them to communicate with one another more freely. That empowers patients, who in turn provide better information to their doctors and comply better with their healthcare programs.
To get there, though, designing healthcare software must start with welcoming both sides as stakeholders. Just as we work to welcome healthcare professionals into the process, we must also welcome healthcare recipients. User research and testing can go a long way in this regard, but we also have to work to keep their needs front-of-mind even when they’re not able to provide input. If our medical software design doesn’t work as well for the folks in the operating room as the folks in the waiting room, we haven’t done our job.
While we’re equipping doctors with a tool, a healthcare software application can give patients a means of communication that had previously been unavailable to them. We need them to feel comfortable sharing their information and interacting with the software, and that means reassuring them every step of the way.
To do that, we make sure the designs for healthcare software applications are both aesthetically soothing as well as insightful. When users upload personal information, or note issues they’ve been having, they’re greeted with calming, colorful hues baked right into the interface. When we must send notifications, we take care to avoid harsher colors and icons — like threatening red symbols — that invite panic from the user. It may seem like small details, but the more comfortable users feel working with the healthcare software application, the more likely they will be to see it as a positive force, and something they want to use.
Designing for healthcare improves outcomes — if you keep people at the center
Building bridges is at the center of healthcare — between patients and providers, providers and administrators, administrators and insurers and many other paths and permutations. At the end of the day, healthcare software systems are just one more way to build those bridges. When you take care to understand both sides — and the regulations at work around them, you can build tools that solve problems and improve outcomes for everyone.
At Table XI, we spend a lot of time at the start of the project speaking with all the potential users. That’s because the sooner we can understand all the processes, wants and needs our healthcare software application must answer for, the more effectively we can start taking the burden off of our users.
Designing for healthcare should always be about streamlining these systems with tools that feel natural in people’s daily lives. A true solution must provide doctors and administrators with valuable data, and allow patients to feel cared for, even at a distance. Tech can’t replace the human eye, or the human touch. Used correctly though, it can help create a bond. In an industry built on interpersonal interactions, software for healthcare should always be in support of those relationships, fostering them through increased communication and understanding.
Published by: Mark Yoon in Design