Healthcare design isn’t about downloads, it's about changing behavior

Simone Orlowski, senior user experience researcher at Partners Connected Health Innovation, talks desinging for behavior change, leading up to next week's Connected Health Conference in Boston.
By Laura Lovett
03:31 pm

Designing apps and platforms for healthcare isn’t necessarily about ticking off how many downloads the product has. Most of the time the main goal is changing the end user’s behavior — whether that be a patient’s health habits or some outdated workflow process used by providers. 

“We deal in the thing that is difficult about healthcare, or what is challenging and what is also really fun, that is we are so focused on behavior change,” Scott Newland, senior user experience designer at Partners Connected Health, told MobiHealthNews. “So I guess from a consumer stand point if I’m making a gaming app I don’t necessarily need to have a behavior change to have an app that is successful. I need it to entertain me for a period of time. I need to have engagement, but the engagement is the purpose of you being there. As soon as you aren’t entertained, you are done. With experience designing in healthcare, at some point our strategy might involve engagement but engagement is a means to an end. What we are really trying to do for people who use our products is change their underlying behavior. We view engagement as a tool to do that.”

Simone Orlowski, a senior user experience researcher at Partners Connected Health will be talking about this challenge and ways to develop meaningful healthcare apps at next week Connect Health Conference in Boston.

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Orlowski told MobiHealthNews that the first step when designing a healthcare tool is really digging into the problem and the users’ motives. 

“What we need to do is understand what is their current state and what needs to change," Orlowski said. "Then when we think about engagement and we are thinking about creating new solutions. How do we then solve for these issues in a way that recognizes what their motivation are and what they want to achieve as the end result?”

But since the goal in healthcare is often to go beyond just engagement and towards changing behaviors, there is an extra step. Orlowski said it’s key not only to listen but also to watch. 

“You don’t rely on one data pool. So you talk to people through interviews then you observe what they do. So we know what they say and how they view their work but what are those underlying things they take for granted, and how can we see these things through observation and determine what they aren’t telling us,” Orlowski said. “Observation [can be done] through workflow and market research and academic literature in healthcare. So when we are doing that follow-up research and really get a good sense of what is happening.”

But changing behaviors isn’t easy and tools aiming to alter habits often need a holistic view of the problem, she said. There can be a lot of reasons why people are not engaging in optimal healthy behaviors. For example, Orlowski worked on a team with Partners HealthCare and biopharmaceutical company UCB to develop a tool for epilepsy patients. Problems like patient non-adherence that may seem simple on the surface ended up being complex. 

The team found that sometimes adherence issues had to do with how expensive the copays were and other times it had to do with side effects. Orlowski said knowing these underlying issues could help the team creating digital products for this population. 

Another challenge that sets healthcare tools apart from the consumer world is the end user—typically developers are designing for both providers and patients. That means balancing the needs and incentives of both. For example Orlowski helped work on a platform that let oncology patient report their pain levels. When the levels got to a certain point their attending physician got a notification. But this had to be balanced with doctor’s concerns about too much communication and an overload of work. Orlowski said in the end the designers found that if the tool only let doctors knows if pain was higher than a certain point it worked well. 

“Often times we are designing solutions that need to have buy-in from two users, patients and providers,” Orlowski said. “Consumer products you can have buy-in from just the consumer.”

Orlowski will be one of the panelists at the Driving Engagement: Recognition, Rewards and Incentives in Digital Health discussion on October 18 from 2:40 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

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