Health

5 Reasons Why We Need More Clinicians Doing Healthcare UX

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Even before I was a teenager I’ve loved working with computers.

I had no qualms opening up different machines and replacing parts; desktop and laptop computers, PlayStation 2s and 3s, and more. I wanted to know how they worked, how to fix them, and even how to make them better through upgrades.

I regularly opened PlayStation consoles to see if I could upgrade them. I wasn’t always successful. Photo by Nikita Kostrykin on Unsplash

Yet working as an IT professional was not my first profession despite it being a major desire (straight after wanting to be a world renowned writer and artist at the tender age of 5). I worked as a medical doctor for 3 years. Although I loved the patients, I was more than fed up with some of the awful software clinical staff have to use. Worse still is how slow the healthcare industry is at truly taking advantage of modern technology.

“…not enough clinicians work in healthcare IT and too few work in Healthcare UX. This needs to change.”

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The vast majority of clinicians, especially from my own experience in the NHS, have a smartphone on them at all times. Clinicians include, but are not limited to, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and physiotherapists. The smartphone is a valuable tool for them, almost as much as a stethoscope, scalpel or syringe. But most of the time they are using apps that may not even be formally endorsed by the place they work. This in itself is not a problem as it highlights how resourceful people can be. But it does show that there isn’t enough of a coordinated effort in designing solutions for clinicians. The main reason for this is that not enough clinicians work in healthcare IT and too few work in Healthcare UX. This needs to change.

Images of Induction, an app which provides doctors with contact details of colleagues during their shift. Taken from the Inductions’s Google Play Store page.

The current state of healthcare technology use is a real shame, because clinicians, even the technophobes, can change things if they are at the very least consulted. It’s a very simple user centred design philosophy; design systems with the needs, wants and limitations of the end user in mind in the entire design process. Having a clinician who knows technology and UX working on developing health technology of tomorrow is a great way of increasing the quality of a healthcare IT project. I’m biased of course since this is my day job now, yet it’s all true.

Here are my 5 reasons why:

Even clinicians fresh out of university have a better idea of healthcare than most IT professionals because they have immersed themselves in that environment for years. Combine at least a few years of clinical practice, and you have an individual who doesn’t just know the lingo, but also the various stresses and strains, highs and lows, felt by clinicians. They know what clinicians want, and certainly know what they don’t want.

Modern clinicians, particularly doctors, are taught to provide patient-centred care which is all about keeping the patient at the centre of all decision making. This decision making process is not just done by the clinician for the patient; it’s also done with the patient. Virtually all clinicians genuinely care about the well-being of their patients, that’s why they are willing to not have lunch or going to the toilet just so they can continue giving great care. This is exactly the same as user-centred design. The only difference being that the user doesn’t have to be a patient. It could be anybody. Nor do you have to deprive yourself of food or the use of a toilet.

Patient-centred care is very similar to user-centred design. The patient and end user should be at the centre of everything you do.

This one might seem strange, but trust me, I’m a Doctor.

In IT and service design, you still have to take a detailed history, gather further information that the client may not have given to you. Then using the support of further investigation or research techniques, ideate solutions to solve the brief, and then deploy the best solution.

Seeing a patient with chest pain to only end up diagnosing and treating indigestion is just the same as being asked to make a new telemedicine platform from scratch when you could instead tweak a white labelled version and have it released. In other words, one must go through a process of understanding the problem and followed by finding the best solution to solve it. A clinician rarely relies exclusively on what a patient says to determine how best to treat them. Clinicians use as many sources of information as possible so they treat the patient to the best of their ability. Designers are the same, but instead of using stethoscopes, blood tests and scanning machines, they use interviews, observational studies, sketchpads and prototyping tools. Both diagnosing and designing are cyclical processes and you can always go backwards.

Diagnosing is eerily similar to designing. The process is cyclical and you can always go backwards. Who’da thunk?

To get buy-in from a community as humongous as the clinical community, you will need insiders who can champion your cause. In the UK, clinicians don’t often run hospitals, managers do. But that is slowly changing. More importantly, the younger generations of clinicians are much more interested in change management and technology. These are the people you will want to engage if you want to find someone most likely to be enthusiastic about working on successful IT and service design projects.

Now don’t get me wrong, change management is complicated. Yet with the right team, it becomes a lot less complicated. You need people who are passionate and doing the job because they want to. Clinicians can be among those passionate people!

With more and more (albeit not enough!) opportunities for clinicians to take time out from training, they can focus on working, if not leading on IT and service design projects. Clinicians are among the most well respected professionals in the world. Getting them to work together to bring design thinking in to an organisation could catch on very quickly and be supported by the wider clinical community. It won’t happen immediately, especially if the clinicians are very junior. Healthcare is very hierarchical after all. With time, however, as their reputation and experience grows , their ability to influence will grow too.

Put design thinking into the minds of eager clinicians early in their career, and you will see a change in culture as the years go by.

A doctor can be described as a person who has a medical degree and is employed to treat the sick. But doctors are more than their profession, and the same goes for all other clinicians. This is really important, not because we should find a way for all clinicians to leave their clinical roles; that would cause even more problems. Rather, it is important because clinicians have so many other skills that they are often not using in their day job that could be used on healthcare IT projects. This includes graphic design, coding, negotiation and project management skills, which are only some of the skills needed on healthcare IT projects. They may not even know that they have the skills until they are given the opportunity to use them.

If you have any doubt that a doctor is more than just a doctor, here’s proof.

Hopefully you can agree that clinicians certainly seem qualified enough to be involved in Healthcare UX. So let’s change things.

Thanks for reading

Thanks to Freepik for the icons

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