I grew up in a household where if any family member fell sick, the entire family thronged to take care of the patient. A person falling sick was considered a catastrophe, and we were taught to deal with it with valor and charisma. All of us had designated roles- the elders had the responsibility to collect reports from the lab and buy medicines from the chemist. One of us would take care of the food, making sure that the sick person ate nothing out of proportions. One person was in-charge of making sure that the timetable of medicine’s intake is followed without any deviation. The kids were responsible for staying around the patient and carrying around important messages from the sick to the caretakers.
Most often, with such care and compassion, the patient healed within days/weeks. However, treating chronic illness was challenging even in those days. It was a constant struggle to remind our grandpa to exercise daily and not eat carbs (he was diabetic). But we still did a great job at keeping his insulin within limits for quite a few years until he died in 2010 of multiple organ failure.
It’s been almost a decade now and a lot has changed over these years. Intimate patient care is now replaced by mobile patient engagement solutions which is nothing but engaging people in their own health through mobile apps. With time (or lack of it), engaging patients in their own health care routine has become difficult. Everyone is busy; no one has time to stop for a moment and think about how their lifestyle is affecting their health. Family care is gradually becoming an obsolete phenomenon.
But thank god for the smart humans who discovered that to improve the health of the patients we must reach out to them where they interact the most– mobile phones. As a result, there is a whole gamut of engagement solutions today ranging from appointment and medication reminders to prescription refill.
But even with all the hullabaloo around these patient engagement solutions, I feel that they have failed to take the place of care-based recovery which involved human interaction.
I know what you might be thinking– technology can never replace human care.
And I agree! But it can definitely augment human care with careful consideration and crafting thoughtful patient experiences.
This is where we lag behind. Most of the existing patient engagement solutions lack empathy and understanding the core of the problem. They offer solutions which just bombard users with all kinds of irrelevant information. As a result, people are left with no other option other than abandoning the platform. And it’s not their fault, who in their right mind would want to spend their time in something that doesn’t help them improve their health?
So what should healthcare startups and healthcare solution providers keep in mind in order to make their platform digital as well as human-centered? We might know everything but we can help you get started with below suggestions-
Use automation to change patient behavior
If you use social media you would have noticed this- when you’re browsing/shopping online, related items start showing up in your Facebook/Instagram feed as sponsored posts. It’s a little disturbing (and unethical) to see your social media ghosting on you. But despite being frivolous, it manages to grab our attention and steal our time.
All this is possible because of AI. Machine learning and AI are powerful technologies that can change the way humans experience the digital world. They can learn, predict and present information that can optimize patient engagement. We can use it in healthcare solutions to change the way patients think and feel about their health.
Let’s take an example. You are undergoing a weight loss program. Every day, per the frequency set by you, you receive a notification reminding you to drink more water and eat more healthy food. The app also monitors your footsteps and at the end of the day, you are shown a progress chart of how much you have come closer to your goal. All of this is personalized which means that you no unnecessary bombardment of information related to other diseases.
This is what AI can do. It can help improve healthcare solutions by engaging with patients and their families in a meaningful way. With AI and machine learning, we can determine the ideal times for sending out important information. We can also extract data from patient’s EMR (electronic medical records) and use the information in targeted messaging– to change patients’ behavior related to their health, to make them aware of their disease, to remind them of their appointments, to persuade them to go for regular checkups.
Apply Design thinking to improve patient experience
Design thinking in Healthcare has still a long way to go. And it won’t become any better unless designers and stakeholder organizations stop considering that a colorful palette and beautiful illustrations will solve their problems.
Healthcare is a complex domain. A patient with a disease is virtually fighting a war with his/her own body. These people and their families go through unimaginable mental trauma and that’s what you need to uncover in order to solve their problem.
So, one must be very careful at every step of the design process. Whether it’s diving into research to understand patient behavior or doing usability testing to see how end users use the final product, nothing can be missed. Iterate, iterate, iterate, till the time you deliver the right solution.
Also, it’s important to understand that for patients, simple is often better. No one would complain to you if you designed something very obvious. But you could potentially be risking lives if something isn’t designed well.
Consider this situation– a 60-year old man uses a healthcare app to remind him of his scheduled time to take medicines. It also notifies of an upcoming appointment with his radiologist. But both these notifications appear in the same way and it often causes him confusion, resulting in either missing the appointment or medicines.
What could be done to avoid confusion in such scenarios? Use different visual elements for both reminders and provide a visual cue that helps users recognize the importance and urgency of the reminder.
Create a unified portal to help users read, digest and seek help for everything
Most patients are clueless about what they can do to cure their disease. They rely solely on their doctor’s treatment and prescribed medications. In such scenarios, they often lack the willingness to be actively involved in changing their lifestyle.
On the other hand, imagine an application that allows patients to network, explore and manage their journey towards better health. Wouldn’t they be delighted to use it? By using technology and design, we can enable people to become responsible for their own health. They can connect, receive and share critical information regarding their health, openly discuss issues related to their condition and seek help from experts/people who had been through a similar situation.
Therefore, healthcare solution providers need to rethink what kind of patient engagement platform that they are building- does it cater to just one problem or provides an end-to-end solution that includes personalized care?
Healthcare solutions are evolving more rapidly than we had imagined them. But amidst this race of coming up with the most innovative healthcare app, we must stop and look at what we are building.
The future of healthcare is upon us and therefore our focus should be on reducing healthcare costs, improving the efficiency of healthcare providers, predict patient needs and most importantly, engage with the patients at the right touchpoints.
I hope this blog helps you understand why you must rethink the patient engagement platform solution that you’re building and make something that truly brings a positive impact in people’s lives.