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Human-centered design: Getting health care engaged

Returning home on a wintry February day, it occurred to me from the comfort of my Lyft how powerful truly human-centered technology can be. Not all that long ago, I reflected, I’d have waited in line out in the cold to grab a ride home from the airport. When it comes right down to it, I get to my destination the same way whether I take a taxi or use an app like Uber or Lyft. So why the different experience? Because, like many other app-based services, ride sharing caters to customers’ needs, not just business needs.

Like Venmo, Washio, and other app-based services, ride sharing companies didn’t reinvent the wheel. They simply used existing tools to address customers’ pain points. I can now wait inside, see how far away the car is, and estimate what the cost will be. And at the end of the ride, I don’t have to deal with the hassle of paying with cash or splitting a fare – rides can be split through the app or I can pay the other passenger later through an app.

That’s the essence of human-centered design. Engaging consumers by providing them with the value they want.

Unfortunately, doctor’s office visits have some catching up to do in meeting consumers’ needs. There’s typically little upfront transparency into visit wait times or treatment costs. Billing and payment processes are often confusing and frustrating and require negotiation between insurance companies and doctors’ offices. In fact, the patient experience often feels inconvenient and impersonal — despite technology advancements, apps and engagement initiatives. This is because more often than not, these services were designed around the organization, not the patient.

What’s in it for them?
Patient engagement, or encouraging individuals to actively participate in their health and wellness, is a big piece to achieving the Triple Aim goals of improving outcomes, costs and the experience of care. In today’s value-based world where the patient experience represents a third of health care organizations’ reimbursement, it’s easy to understand why engagement is top of mind.

One problem is, people can’t generally agree on what it looks like. Many provider organizations treat the tools of engagement — websites, patient portals and online bill pay, for example — as the solution. Although access to information is an important step, it still has to be relevant and usable for the patient in order to motivate behavioral changes and improve outcomes.

Take, for example, a new Rock Health study looking at consumer use of mobile health apps that track key health factors like weight, heart rate or blood pressure. Though 17 percent of the population is currently tracking one or more health factors, only two percent track their blood pressure in an app. In another report, analysts found that fewer people use mobile health apps because they didn’t find them useful, the user experience was fragmented, or due to privacy concerns. Having the technology isn’t enough; providers need to deliver on consumers’ expectations — or risk losing customers and revenue to competitors.

User experience design
Changing the health care system to better engage customers requires human-centered design, a creative approach to problem solving and innovation. It aims to better understand the needs of customers by observing how they’re actually interacting with the health system, and then developing tools and approaches based on those findings. The goal is to better enable patients to have the experiences they desire as people and consumers, not only as patients – ultimately driving engagement and satisfaction.

It’s important, though, to understand that not all people will respond the same way to engagement efforts. The Deloitte Center for Health Solutions’ 2015 Survey of US Health Care Consumers found that while engagement is trending upward in three important areas — partnering with providers, tapping online resources and relying on technology — a large segment remains disengaged, suggesting that health care organizations should not use a “one-size-fits-all” approach in their digital and consumer engagement strategies.

The survey also revealed gaps between what individuals say they’re interested in doing, such as communicating electronically with their doctors, and what they actually do. For human-centered design to be successful, it’s essential to recognize the difference between the two.

Focus groups are one way to try to engage patients in the design process, for example. Yet putting patients, doctors, nurses and administrators in a room with the design team typically yields minimal insight. It’s easy for patients’ voices to be drowned out, and for feedback to mirror what the administration wants to hear.

A better strategy is to select positive, high-energy patient experiences within your organization — for example, a new mom’s. Track her experience throughout her pregnancy from understanding her symptoms and emotions to her OB/gyn visits, sonograms, and procedures, and follow her care journey to identify how she genuinely wishes to be engaged. By uncovering what patients demonstrate they want, an organization can test its design hypothesis and outcomes before an organization-wide roll-out.

Driving satisfaction
Layering and personalizing information and assistance to consumers’ different levels of interest, need and technical proficiency can help build awareness, comfort and trust on the path toward a successful and sustainable engagement program.

Health care organizations can learn from app-based services to better listen to customers’ expectations and use existing tools to deliver on their needs. With better informational and digital support, they can work toward changing the industry. They’ll not only move the needle on patient engagement, but could also win the hearts, minds and business of those customers.

Author bio

David is a principal in Deloitte Consulting LLP’s Life Sciences and Health Care practice. He leads Deloitte’s Customer Transformation initiatives for the health care provider sector, and his work has focused on enhancing core operations in the revenue cycle, driving performance improvement through operating model transformation and growing the business through mergers & acquisitions all with an eye towards creating a more patient-centric, consumer-oriented delivery system.