COVID-19 has shone a harsh light on global healthcare systems. Around the world, patients navigate challenging health systems and face inequities in access. Many health systems also suffer from fragmented healthcare initiatives that fail to incorporate the needs and perspectives of patients, providers, and other key stakeholders.
Healthcare innovators argue that to improve outcomes, you must first understand the experience of the people delivering and receiving care within the health system. Inclusive design offers discrete tools and methodologies to unpack and synthesize these various perspectives, creating new approaches that can transform healthcare.
Inclusive design places patients and practitioners at the center of the innovation process, every step of the way. By integrating their feedback throughout the ideation and iteration process, health innovators can develop solutions that improve patient experience, healthcare delivery, and health outcomes. For our fifth episode of the Inclusive Innovation Exchange, we discussed the role of design with three leading healthcare thought leaders:
- Tracy Johnson, an anthropologist and senior program officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation;
- Anne Stake, head of strategy at Medtronic LABS;
- and Tito Ovia, the co-founder/head of public sector growth at Helium Health.
Below, we share their insights on the power of thoughtful design to strengthen healthcare systems in emerging markets.
How to Design for Better Healthcare in Emerging Markets
It centers solutions on human needs.
For Medtronic LABS—a social business that designs, builds, and scales technology-enabled health service delivery models for emerging markets—Anne Stake noted that design is a philosophy and methodology all in one. For good design, you need to keep coming back to what will actually move the needle to improve patients’ lives, “to be sure we’re not innovating in a vacuum and that we’re serving a human need,” she said.
It forces us to question our assumptions.
“Design takes a microscope to our assumptions and unpacks them as we iterate toward solutions,” said Tracy Johnson of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. She argues that if innovators aren’t continuously questioning and putting prototypes into people’s hands, they may find out too late that they’ve got it wrong.
It lets you meet people where they are.
At Helium Health, one of Africa’s top healthtech companies, Tito Ovia’s team designs software training to align to users’ needs. If providers have never used a computer, trainers start by showing them how to turn one on. Understanding target users and their experience helps Helium Health design products and support services that meet participants where they are.
It increases uptake and retention.
Inclusive design can create greater understanding, ownership, and enthusiasm from intended users. Johnson’s team found that when products or approaches are co-created with community health workers, workers incorporate the innovation into their experience more quickly and regularly. They also require less ongoing support to maintain and sustain the new solution.
It helps us draw connections.
Inclusive design can generate insights that are translatable across solutions—helping designers better decipher new contexts and challenges. Ovia’s team often uncovers opportunities to improve the healthcare systems in which Helium’s products operate. “Especially for state governments, we focus on how we can help you redesign your systems to be more efficient, increase revenue, and redesign healthcare.” she said.
It drives feedback and fosters relationships.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, Johnson’s team couldn’t fly out to meet with local health stakeholders in person. But because she knew their feedback was vital to the process, she sought new information sources and eventually gained access to local WhatsApp groups. “They were conversations we weren’t necessarily having before,” she said.
Continuous improvement during the planning, prototyping, and implementation process creates a substantial opportunity to build trust and foster communication with key stakeholders and target users.
It’s a practice, not an end goal.
Design doesn’t stop once a product or service is launched. If a new solution doesn’t succeed, iterative design processes allow teams to understand how the solution failed and how it can be adapted and improved. This is the essence of innovation.
We need more inclusive, resilient, and collaborative approaches to healthcare. The use of inclusive design methods in healthcare innovation will help ensure that patients’ and providers’ voices are heard for better solutions and better health outcomes worldwide.