Should Hospitals Think and Act Like Tech Companies?

Amy Cueva
Amy Cueva

Guest post by Amy Cueva, co-founder, Mad*Pow.

Is your hospital or healthcare organization actually a technology company in disguise? Lots of companies are. After all, to win and hold onto customers, organizations have to make huge investments in IT and technology. At some point if, say, a financial services organization spends most of its money on technology, hasn’t it actually become a technology company that happens to deliver financial services? Are hospitals and health care organizations any different?

The thing is, while businesses are becoming tech companies, successful tech companies have realized it’s not about technology at all. It’s about experiences. Think about Uber or AirBnB: What they’re really selling is an experience enabled by technology.

Welcome to the experience economy. At Mad*Pow, the design firm where I lead experience design, we’re always trying to help hospitals and healthcare companies think about the patient experience as they travel through their healthcare journey.

It’s not easy work. The healthcare industry has gotten more than its fair share of disruption to deal with. Things like electronic medical records and the Affordable Care Act have unleashed waves upon waves of new technology into the clinical setting—none of which plays very well together. Meanwhile, doctors and clinicians have become data entry specialists, sacrificing important patient time for screen time. As a result, healthcare is behaving a bit too much like “sick care,” treating problems rather than treating people. It’s more about the transaction, less about the patient experience.

On the bright side, the industry is responding in exciting ways. Today, more and more hospitals are acting like tech start-ups. They’re sponsoring hack-a-thons to crowdsource innovation within their own walls. They’re incubating ideas from doctors and clinicians to build and test new devices and technologies. They’re partnering with universities and entrepreneurs and private business to fuel and fund and focus their innovation.

Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston is a great example. Joslin had very successful behavioral weight loss program, where patients typically lost 7 percent 10 percent of their body weight during a 12-week in-clinic program. We helped Joslin create a digital application that could accomplish similar outcomes for people outside the clinic, leveraging things like game theory, user experience design, social feedback and data visualization. Today, Joslin has an app it can share with its patients—but also with fellow hospitals or license to insurance companies, self-insured private enterprises and more.

So why doesn’t every hospital launch a zippy new app or create a sleek, wearable monitoring device? One problem is that technologists and clinicians have different methods and motivations. For instance, hospitals are risk averse by nature. Where tech companies “fail fast and fail often” to get to success, hospitals are trained to “do no harm,” which makes rapid prototyping and iteration unfamiliar territory. In technology, it’s all about the next “bright shiny object.” In hospitals, it’s about proven, methodical, measurable outcomes. But the two are learning to work together.

Mad*Pow recently sponsored its annual HxRefactored design conference (“Hx” stands for Health Experience) where designers, doctors, technologists, not-for-profits, coders, entrepreneurs and insurers all came together to talk about our common goals—finding innovative new ways to put patients back at the center of care.

As hospitals begin to think more like tech companies (and tech companies try to think like health care providers), we’re all learning an important lesson or two:

Healthcare needs to be about well care. There’s a huge opportunity for technology to extend patient care outside the hospital’s walls. Not only can we make care more convenient, we can find new ways to leverage technology to help motivate people toward lasting, sustainable behavior change—and healthier lifestyles.

Everything has to connect, and connect to better outcomes. A patient isn’t a transaction; they are a person who is on (typically) a very scary healthcare journey. Technology, services, systems, they all have to talk to one another—and be easy to navigate and use—so that we can help patients at every touch point. Whether it’s before, during and after a hospital visit, manage a chronic condition, or as they simply try to stay healthier.

We can’t forget our empathy. Designers are professionals trained to put themselves in other people’s shoes. We’re empathetic by nature. So we spend a lot of time training clients to use design thinking and human-centered design in their quest for technology solutions. This means envisioning the entire process to get all the interconnected parts working together as simply and understandably as possible. It also means that the people who will actually use a piece of technology should be involved in the in the design of that technology. Users—actually, people—first.

We can’t do it alone. Healthcare challenges are complex and it’s going to take an interdisciplinary team of thinkers to find holistic solutions to them. I like to envision the healthcare industry as ecosystems of care, in which organization share knowledge and link services—and always keep the patient at the center of everything we do.

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