It’s all about the UX

There is no doubt that User Experience (UX) is a hot topic throughout today’s design world. But how is the personal approach to product development affecting the field of healthcare? Lucy Sheldon, people-centered designer, and Andres Barrera, user experience designer, went along to the first ever User Centred Design (UXD) Healthcare conference to find out…

Lucy and Andres write: Here at Cambridge Design Partnership, one of our specialisms is designing healthcare devices, from asthma inhalers to blood sugar monitors, that are used by patients rather than health professionals. In such situations, the experience of the user/patient is key to the success of the product. Do they like using the design or will they give up on it? 
Because of this, we were intrigued by a new conference devoted entirely to User Experience (UX) within the world of healthcare.  So we headed off to the User Centred Design (UXD) Healthcare conference in London this spring to find out more and report back:

Who was there?

Attendees ranged from new start-ups to digital health specialists employed by global pharmaceutical companies. This was a chance for us to check out what’s happening right across the board in healthcare UXD.

What was the focus?

Many of the presentations were about the ways in which digital technologies can deliver a cost-effective and successful preventative healthcare model. Loud and clear came the message: a people-centered healthcare approach requires great UX at its heart. Healthcare solutions that the patient uses in their own home have to be problem-free and a joy to use. Otherwise compliance becomes a real problem.

Which innovations stood out?

We liked the look of the myCOPD app, an app which offers patient education for people with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. This app delivers advice from world experts and is, in effect, a complete online pulmonary rehabilitation class. Another interesting project is the Babylon Health start-up, which offers online GP consultations. This company is already working with the NHS, allowing patients the option of signing up with Babylon Health rather than a traditional GP surgery.

Why is UX so much at the forefront of healthcare these days?

The rising incidence of long-term health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and asthma is driving investment with a shift in emphasis. Now the focus is on helping patients to cope with their chronic illness, in terms of both reducing symptoms and improving outcomes. There is also much more investment in preventing lifestyle-related illnesses occurring in the first place.

What is the aim of UX in healthcare today?

Several of the speakers referenced the term healthspan (quality of life), which is now considered alongside lifespan as a measure of healthcare success. The question is no longer just: how long will you live? What matters is now how long you will live in good health.

What else is new?

Presentations which outlined how augmented reality in digital tech could be used in healthcare. Gaming-based digital tech allows users to overcome phobias in virtual reality. One idea we heard being discussed was a digital game in which the user overcomes their fear of heights by travelling up escalators, going onto balconies, etc. This is proving genuinely effective in helping people overcome debilitating phobias.

Did AI feature?

Absolutely. We were struck by a presentation which outlined the ways in which Artificial Intelligence (AI) – or perhaps more specifically machine learning – frees up healthcare professionals to do their high-level work more effectively. Algorithms can analyse patient data such as heart-rate, flagging up noteworthy results and saving hours of human time poring over charts to spot anomalies.

The appetite for digital therapeutic treatments is certainly growing and, for conditions such as depression there are, we discovered, several therapies that the patient uses themselves that have already been clinically validated. This impressed us a lot.

Did you come back to Cambridge Design Partnership feeling inspired?

Definitely. Here at CDP we work on a wide range of healthcare projects that have UX at their heart and we know just how crucial it is. For example, we designed the First Response Monitor as a way of helping first responders such as paramedics triage patients. The monitor helps assess which patients need help soonest via nose clips which record oxygen levels and display results using AI on a smartphone dashboard. In such a high-pressure situation as. Say, a serious road accident, kit needs to be reliable and simple to use. Our UX design, both for the physical product (the nose clip) and the digital tech (the smartphone dashboard) was key to its success.

How can CDP offer the best UXD to its clients?

We offer global companies the opportunity to create healthcare products – be they digital or physical – that not only fulfil the brief but truly delight the user. Our Potential Realised product design process, which links research, design, technology, engineering and manufacturing into a single integrated process allows us to meet and exceed customer expectations for UX.

Finally, how is the future looking for UXD in healthcare?

There is an exponential growth of health-tech start-ups right now and design in healthcare is evolving towards a more holistic and democratic approach. Patients no longer simply expect a prescription or a pill to solve their problems. Instead, they are taking ownership of their treatment and their health, often using digital technology. Where this is supported by machine learning, we are convinced that UX has the potential significantly to enhance healthcare delivery.