I talked to 4 designers who create meaningful user experiences to make healthcare more accessible and effective
As a designer with a background in bioengineering, I’ve been curious as to how we can design better products within the healthcare industry. With such rigid healthcare regulations and standards in place, it’s challenging to find opportunities where I can help. I talked with 4 designers working in healthcare to learn more about how they’re tackling the research process, addressing their user needs, and improving accessibility and affordability. I also asked each designer, “What advice would you give to designers looking to work in healthcare?
Digital stethoscope for better cardiac diagnosis
Eko was founded to address the challenge of cardiac diagnosis and care. The stethoscope is used as the first line of defense for heart diseases, but it fails to capture crucial information that nurses and doctors need such as irregular heart rate. By simply amplifying, recording, and saving the sound of the heartbeat, Eko’s stethoscopes allow doctors and nurse practitioners to more accurately diagnose patients early on.
Before Eko, “If something was amuck, you’d refer a patient to an echocardiogram which is a really expensive and inefficient procedure. With the older, regular stethoscope, heart conditions go unnoticed or misdiagnosed,” says Philip Goolkasian, VP of Product at Eko. Eko’s investment in design has helped the company stand out among other medical device companies. The mobile platform’s user interface gets positive reviews on simplicity and ease of use. “It gives doctors and medical professionals a taste of what the future of medicine could be.”
Philip’s mantra is “good design is useful, usable, and delightful. Usually people might consider the first two as engineering but design should be all three. In healthcare there’s a tremendous amount of friction, and there’s space for creative people, designers, engineers to make things better.” By embracing this mantra, Eko is able to create a device that practitioners of all levels, from medical students to physicians, can use and benefit from.
If you have a technical background: I encourage you to think outside the box. Look at other products to frame your work. For example, if you’re designing for Eko, you have to consider not just stethoscopes. It helps cross pollinate your ideas. For trained designers: give medical a chance–it’s an underdeveloped industry in terms of design.
Birth control and PrEP delivered for free
Nurx is telehealth company that focuses on providing easy and affordable access to birth control and HIV prevention. Astrid Javier, Head of Product Design at Nurx, is a practicing designer on internal processes who also helps grow the team and establish design processes to help Nurx scale.
Although Astrid wasn’t part of the initial user research, she makes sure to read and listen to user feedback. To see how Nurx has helped the lives of these individuals is both heart-wrenching and gratifying. The research results showed that discreet and positive support was making a huge impact, and she reinforced the need for better sex education. With a lot of misunderstandings about sexual health and lack of guidance and community, Nurx has used this opportunity to jump in and help.
Nurx’s patients are divided into two groups: women looking for birth control (either for emergency or everyday) and PrEP patients looking for an additional level of HIV prevention. The company focuses on making their processes private, free of judgement, and seamless. Astrid said that some patients live in small towns without sexual health clinics and receive no privacy, so Nurx provides them with the support, accessibility, and education they need.
Nurx pushes healthcare to be accessible and effective by allowing patients to feel more educated, empowered, and responsible about their health. Nurx recently released a take home test kit to potential PrEP users that allow them to do the lab testing themselves. By not have to go into testing facilities, patients save time, have a layer of confidentiality, and can feel more actively responsible for their health.
Just don’t give up! There are lots of rules, but the healthcare industry is starting to catch up with the rest of tech industry. Learn the rules, play by them, and have fun.
Affordable and actionable genetic testing for hereditary cancer risk
Similarly to Nurx, Color Genomics was founded to help make healthcare more accessible and affordable for patients. Color offers physician-ordered genetic testing at a low cost so that people can make better health decisions and understand their risk for hereditary disorders. On designing for the Color user, VP or Product Wendy McKennon explained, “It’s important to understand who might be using Color and why. Sometimes, it’s somebody who’s been on medication, it hasn’t worked, and they’re frustrated. Some users’ motivations could be that a family member has passed away, or someone who’s just generally responsible about their health. What’s the user experience going to be for the patients and family members? Thinking about users, their motivations, and goals has been integral and core to our brand.”
Design hits at lots of different areas of the product, like price point and education. Historically, genetic tests were expensive, costing at around $4,000, and were only served to those with a specific need at a specific time. Color faced an interesting design challenge when their product, priced at around $200, got some people suspicious. “When you create something that already exists but at a much lower price with more services, people think ‘Oh, this must be a trick! It must be low quality.’ You really need to keep your eye out on what people are going to be skeptical about,” and creating a good user experience around the product can tackle that.
Color strives to educate their customers by giving you concrete next steps if you’re at a higher risk for cancer. In the design process, Wendy asks questions like, “How do you make information more accessible, helping people make more informed decisions and making sure it’s relevant to them? How do you make the whole thing easier to use?” Patients have mental hurdles, and the more hurdles you can take out in a responsible manner, the better.
When you’re designing for healthcare, you have a really amazing opportunity to have direct impact on people and it’s an amazing space to work in. There’s a lot of satisfaction that can come from solving those issues. So give it a chance!
Simplifying the pharmacy experience & delivering medication for free
Alto is a pharmacy that serves a lot of user needs, but the company really started out from the fact that patients have difficulty receiving and adhering to their prescription due to slow, uncommunicative pharmacies and insurance companies. Alto carries the same stuff (and more) as your local Walgreens pharmacy, except they deliver to you for free! Katie Rinkevich, Product Designer at Alto, had to think about designing for users across all ages and demographics, as “Everyone needs medicine. Alto is not trying to be an app for the 1%.”
When designing Alto’s onboarding flow for those in need of fertility drugs, Katie had to account for many different use cases both on the patient and provider side. For instance, consider an egg donor and recipient. Both need very different drugs at particular time periods and while their personal information is usually undisclosed, there’s still a lot of stuff going on in between them like payment. Katie interviewed lots of users and created journey maps for how they currently receive their fertility drugs. After seeing where traditional pharmacies fall short, Katie designed new, simplified user journey maps and experiences where Alto can be of support.
The process of learning about and getting new drugs is never a fun process. Alto bridges the gap between patients, providers, pharmacies, and insurance companies which are all very different silos. Katie said “For a normal pharmacy, you throw the prescription over the fence and hope for the best. Same with insurance, throw the claim over the fence, hope for the best, hope it gets approved!” Alto simplifies these processes for patients and makes their lives easier by making it more transparent. I use Alto for my own medications and when it initially couldn’t get processed through my insurance, Alto called them for me! They helped me to not only understand my situation but also solve it so that I can receive my medication successfully.
Talk to the users on both sides. There aren’t patients without providers and plenty of people will be happy to tell you about their experience. Understanding the needs of both patients and the providers serving those patients will allow you to design for a healthcare system better.