Six Key Learnings for Designing Digital Health Products that Clinicians and Patients Will Love
Designing digital products in the health care space is more challenging than in any other sector. Your success or failure will be directly tied to the extent to which you consider the operational environment of your product. Building a combined product/service ecosystem is the most effective way to address all of the complexities you will inevitably encounter.
By Syuzi Pakhchyan, Experience Design Director at BCG Digital Ventures
Health care is ripe for disruption, but digital health startups continue to fail at an alarming rate — even more so than your typical startup. What is it about the digital health space that makes it so much more difficult to succeed? For one, the “move fast and break things” approach of the tech world simply does not work in an industry where people’s lives are at stake. For another, many founders lack the expertise to appreciate health care specific workflows or understand the full customer journey. Some fail by spending too much money building the wrong product; others make the mistake of focusing on the technology rather than the customer.
Even with the “perfect” product in hand, more than 60% of digital health startups are forced to pivot from a B2C approach, marketing to patients who are unwilling (or unable) to pay full price, to a B2B approach, marketing to payers and providers instead. All of these factors combined lead to the high rate of failure in the digital health space.
The stakes are high. Startups that are able to overcome these challenges have the opportunity not only to save people’s lives, but also to make a great deal of money while they’re at it. Funding in the digital health market is stronger than ever, increasing 42% between 2017 and 2018 to a whopping $81.B. The writing is on the wall: The tech industry’s current approach to product development simply doesn’t work in the digital health space. But what does?
If we want to see increased adoption and, more importantly, higher impact of the digital health tools we create, we must move from creating minimum viable products (MVPs) to creating scalable product and service ecosystems. This requires a shift in mindset towards a more holistic approach which considers the myriad implications a product will have on the lives of all stakeholders. By focusing on the ecosystem, we can ensure we are building something people will not only be willing to use, but will embrace with enthusiasm.
As an Experience Design Director at BCG Digital Ventures, I’ve led the design build of several digital health products from ideation all the way through to commercialization Most recently, I oversaw the creation a patient engagement and monitoring platform built to help improve the quality of care and outcome of patients while also reducing costs.
Through these experiences, I have uncovered six key learnings designers can leverage to help ensure the success of digital health products.
1. Build a product around a customer friction and understand the ecosystem that surrounds it.
Many digital health solutions are built around an emerging technology rather than a customer friction — But technology should be an enabler, not a solution. In health care more than any other industry, you need to provide a viable solution to an existing problem that hasn’t already been solved. To do this, you must begin with understanding real customer frictions, and then identifying the appropriate technologies that will enable the solution.
When identifying frictions, it’s important to remember that they need to be well defined — and this includes the systems and processes that create, support, and sustain the problem. More importantly, frictions must be validated with patients and clinicians. They must also be large enough that identified stakeholders are willing to pay for your product. Understanding a customer’s willingness to pay de-risks the elusive product/market fit question, particularly in an industry where end users are not necessarily the buyers of the product and service.
Early in the product development phase of the patient-monitoring platform we built, validation with patients and health care professionals via ethnographic research and surveys helped us not only identify the frictions at play, but understand the environment that surrounded them. By taking this step, we were able to align around the core problem we wanted our product to solve and identify the key value propositions for all stakeholders.
2. Identify a clear value proposition for all stakeholders in the product ecosystem and a key opinion leader to champion it.
Creating products that patients love is not enough. Products must also appeal to a diverse group of stakeholders, including hospital administrators, insurers, and clinicians. Because the end user is often not the one paying for the product, it’s critical to define and validate clear value propositions for each stakeholder. The business case must be equally as compelling to hospitals and providers as it is for patients and clinicians.
It’s important to understand that the introduction of any new technology into the clinical environment will have an impact on how health care services are delivered. Therefore, everyone on the clinical team will need to be clear on your product’s benefit to them, not just patients. With so many stakeholders involved, it’s important to partner with key opinion leaders (KOLs) who can serve as product evangelists early on and champion value within their organization.
3. Co-create with physicians and test with users early and often.
Access to patients and clinicians for testing can be difficult but absolutely critical to your product’s adoption. When clinicians and patients help identify the problem, co-create in building in the solution, and participate during the product’s refinement, adoption is inevitable. Clinician buy-in is key, so be sure to involve them early in the product development process, even if they are not the target end user of the product. Develop a pool of end users you can test each product iteration on, and bring in new users to each round of testing for a fresh perspective.
With the patient-monitoring platform, we conducted 90 hours of ethnographic interviews across the US over a nine-month period. We interviewed oncology patients who had been hospitalized within the last six months, testing the usability of PROs (patient reported outcomes), conducted a wearable device study, and refined the branding. We also leveraged an expert oncology panel that informed the development of: PROs, algorithm design, the design of clinical trial protocol, and the UX/UI of the product. Lastly, we interviewed inpatient and outpatient nurses to test the usability of PROs, nomenclature, and branding, and collected their input on how the operational workflow and integration would factor into their day-to-day work lives.
This may seem like a lot of research and interviews — and it was — but it helped ensure we were not only building products that were usable, but that people wanted and were excited to use.
4. Design the routines and systems around your product as acutely as you design the product itself.
It’s not the design of the product, but the seamless rollout, workflows, and culture around it that will make it sustainable and scalable. In health care, the biggest obstacle to adoption of a technology is the result of required change in complex, well-established processes. For this reason, it is critical to understand and map the environment and clinical workflows your product will exist within. Consider how your product will be used alongside other technologies and how it will change an individual’s role and a team’s relationship with one another. Clearly identity the required changes in workflow during the adoption process and validate it with key stakeholders.
5. Consider the UX burden of an MVP launch.
Clinicians want to spend time with their patients, not learning a new technology. The value of your product is often unclear to most clinicians who are asked to use it, making it even more critical to develop trust by understanding their current workflows and the amount of burden the adoption of a new product will put on their current processes. If your MVP creates more “work,” you may want to augment it temporarily with a service to alleviate the burden. Consider embedding a clinician from your own team as a part of the product launch to answer questions and observe any frictions that may arise in a clinical setting.
6. Design for simplicity. Design for empathy.
When designing digital health products, it’s important to make sure that you understand how doctors make decisions and that you value how patients feel. Delivering the right information at the right time streamlines the clinician’s workflow. Delivering the right amount of information in the right tone improves patient engagement. To do this, make sure you understand the mental models clinicians use and design a product that reflects their decision-making process. You also need to understand the environment/context the product will be used in and make sure you are always designing for accessibility.
For both patients and clinicians, nomenclature matters. For patients, there is a delicate balance between language that is too clinical (thereby too difficult to understand) and too simple (thereby not providing enough information). For clinicians, the UX copy must reflect their mental model—what they know, see and hear every day—in order for the product to be taken seriously.
Designing digital products in the health care sector is more challenging than in any other sector. Your success or failure will be directly tied to the extent to which you consider the broader environment your product will operate within. Building a product/service ecosystem is the most effective way to address all of the complexities you will inevitably encounter.
By applying this methodology in the creation of digital health products, you will be able to build solutions that people need (i.e. that solve a real problem), that are easy to use (i.e. that have been tested in the field), and that seamlessly integrate into people’s everyday work lives (i.e. minimal burden for adoption). While this approach requires careful attention at every touchpoint, your hard work will be well worth the effort when your product is embraced (and loved) by patients, clinicians, and hospitals.