The buzz words such as patient engagement and population health have gained mass appeal in the recent years leading to apparently a new paradigm within digital health. What has emerged under the umbrella of patient engagement has been the patient portals provided by EMR vendors as an introductory offering for patients and providers. Patients can access their health information, check documents, and in some cases, even book appointments. It’s a bit like having an online bank account – access, view, and make one-way transactions. While even online banking experience is being improved for better customer service and enhanced customer experience, healthcare will have to take a similar route.
Engaging patients goes beyond providing them access to their health records and results for labs. It also goes beyond appointment booking. Portals are nice but we must remain cognizant of the rapidly shifting technologies. mHealth takes into consideration a shift in developing mobile and a more tangible experience for patients; perhaps even the use of gamified experiences to improve (patient) engagement and satisfaction. Whether we make a patient portal or an app, we must think not from an engagement standpoint but from the user standpoint. Let us not think what can we offer the user (patient), let us think what can we empower them with – what do they need and what do they want. The latter is difficult to understand since patients may not necessarily know everything they can have at their finer tips. As clinicians and digital health innovators, we are responsible for understanding how can we help patients and what tools can we equip them with.
Using human-centered design (HCD) approach, we can develop technology to wrap around the user. Participatory design is one such term to describe an HCD focused (digital) healthcare. An HCD approach takes all major stakeholders into consideration for developing better healthcare for patients. Illustrated in the figure below is the Technology-Organization-People (TOP) model (Guy Andre Boy, 2013) for developing an integrated human-centered solution development.
Critical to HCD and participatory healthcare is building a TOP solution that has a holistic approach to (systems) design. In this case, the system being both the organization and the hardware-software system.
In fact, use of participatory design in the developments of clinician or patient-centric solutions is absolutely critical. For designers of such systems (both within the healthcare and technology domain), they must first understand their user and the use cases – mold the solution around the user, not vice-versa.
Participatory design must bring all stakeholders together – for innovators to build next generation of healthcare solutions, the challenge isn’t simply in technological hurdles, but rather the human aspect.