Health care IT: Lives depend on good design

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By Barbara Bix

Until recently, the health care industry ran largely on paper. With the federal mandate to automate the collection and distribution of patient medical records and information behind us, industry participants are starting to worry about the usability of the new health care information technology systems.

Designing for patient and clinician adoption

Yesterday, I attended the self-proclaimed first-of-its-kind Health Care Experience Design Conference in Boston. There, speakers from leading health care organizations such as The Cleveland Clinic, Kaiser Permanente, Aetna, Philips, and Johnson and Johnson-as well as representatives from human interface design agencies-shared best practices for designing technology that is easy for clinicians and patients to use and adopt.

Designing for behavior change

First up, was B.J. Fogg speaking about the use of his behavioral change model to create healthy habits. Using an example of a ringing phone, he demonstrated that behaviors happen when three things happen in unison: a trigger, ability, and motivation.

In this case, the trigger was the ringing phone. Whether you would answer it or not would depend on your ability to hear it or get to it-and your motivation to connect with the other party.

Ability, trigger, motivation required for behavior change

Fogg recommended that designers will have the greatest success changing behavior if they 1) focus on behaviors that are easy to do (ability), 2) inserted them immediately after a cue (hot trigger), and 3) focused on populations that were most likely to adopt (motivation). Using teeth flossing as an example, he also suggested taking baby steps. That is, train individuals to floss a single tooth before increasing the behavior to include multiple teeth.

Designing empathy into health information systems

After that, the audience split into two tracks. I attended an excellent session by Tim Kieschnick who noted that technology can get in the way of empathy. He then offered ten tips for designing empathy into systems. My favorites were his recommendations to create and use personae.

Focus on real life world of users fosters empathy

Tim pointed out that developing for personae helps design teams focus on the real life world of eventual users, and therefore foster empathy. He also suggested that project teams define their milestones by how the personae's lives would change because of their efforts, rather than in terms of their own accomplishments.

Patient-centric design needed to engage teens with chronic diseases

Lisa Nugent, the Global Creative Director, at Johnson and Johnson, gave a moving description of a project she did on engaging teens with chronic illnesses. Using exercises that encouraged self-reflection, she asked teens about how they viewed their lives and what was important to them.

In so doing, she was able to uncover useful information that ultimately helped parents and clinicians better understand, communicate with, and care for the teens. Moreover, teens that participated in the study ultimately took on more responsibility for management of their diseases.

Poor design can kill

The conference concluded with a talk by Jamie Heywood, CEO of Patients Like Me. Patients Like Me aims to provide patients with information, from others' experiences, that will help them achieve the best possible outcome given their current health status. Whereas Fogg started the day talking about disease conditions exacerbated by unhealthy behaviors, Heywood said his company focuses on patients who developed diseases over which they had no control.

Heywood underscored the importance of good design, indicating that poor design can cost lives. For example, he pointed out it's more important to be concise than precise.

Once a document gets too long, it loses its efficacy because fewer people read it. Calling designers "wimps", he cautioned them not to yield to clinicians when designing systems of care.

Hosts will repeat sold out conference next year

Overall, the audience judged the day a tremendous success. The conference sold out and many people lingered afterwards to share their enthusiasm for the information they gained.

The hosts, mad*pow and Claricode, announced that they would repeat the conference next year. To see others' thoughts about the conference search on #hdxconf.   Learn more about our health care marketing consulting services

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