How many times have you gotten lost in a hospital?
So often, unmarked hallways and white-washed walls lead us astray. But for UX design researcher Katie McCurdy, the solution might simply involve painting a wall blue to lead patients and providers to the main reception desk, or redesigning the look of a medical bill.
“Often the reaction we get in these medical facilities is that “it’s just the way it is around here,” McCurdy tells a crowd of onlookers at a talk at the University of Vermont Medical Center in 2016.
McCurdy’s work is focused on strengthening relationships between doctors and patients — such as creating an information pamphlet for parents to be more aware of activities and resources at a children’s hospital, or designing a map with rivers and forests to help navigate a patient through a healthcare facility.
“Pretty much every staff member gets stopped every day by someone asking for directions,” said McCurdy. She is currently working to get hard numbers on how the implementation of her wayfinding project has changed things for staff members.
“The design of a facility/structure with its fixed and moveable components can have a significant impact on human performance, especially on the health and safety of employees, patients, and families.”
This finding is from a study titled “The Impact of Facility Design on Patient Safety” published by members of the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality and Synergy Health in 2008. The study reviews “more than 600 articles and finds links between the physical environment (i.e., single-bed or multiple-bed patient rooms) and patient (e.g., fewer adverse events and better health care quality) and staff outcomes (e.g., reduced stress and fatigue and increased effectiveness in delivering care).”
McCurdy has designed a problem-solving model to solving issues providers and patients often face. For instance, the invention of an analog tool called Pictal Health, which allows patients to express their symptoms to physicians by creating detailed visual timelines.
McCurdy’s process is one that allows her to achieve a simple solution to complex issues. Here are her four steps to designing better healthcare experiences:
1. Visualize the Problem
McCurdy uses a lot of drawings, whether it be maps, notes, pictures. In fact, McCurdy’s Pictal stemmed from a personal visit to a physician in which she felt she was unable to communicate the problem, and decided to draw out a timeline of her symptoms while in the waiting room. Or for McCurdy’s wayfinding project she drew old maps of the hospital and placed new designs overtop. If there’s a way to visualize the situation, she will find it.
2. Observe and Ask Questions
After implementing new prototypes into the environment, whether its a zoning system or orientation guide, McCurdy inspires patients and providers to think of a clear memorable experience at the hospital and map it out. She will spend a great deal of time walking around and attempting to understand the experience for herself. Solving the right problem begins with asking the right questions. Tools such as tip and comment boards, help change the conversation around the patient and provider experience, and develop solutions which meet their specific needs.
3. Always Be Testing (ABT)
Do the orientation pamphlets or maps make things less confusing or more confusing for physicians, patients, families? If something doesn’t work, she’ll try something new. Because the users are co-creators in developing the solution, they feel confident to provide feedback. McCurdy encourages her colleagues to “be like water,” and amenable to trying new avenues to solve a problem in a clinical setting.
4. Document Progress
The process is one that is constantly evolving in McCurdy’s work, and for all designers. UX design has proven to save hospitals hundreds of thousands of dollars, and made the relationships between providers and patients stronger. But the work is hardly over, and only time will tell if McCurdy’s work will remain an effective solution, or if changes over time, such as new technology on the market, will lead to new problems in need of new solutions.
In many ways, the health concerns McCurdy takes on in her projects is similar to that of start-ups, but she admits industries aimed at creating a new app or gadget aren’t necessarily “selling their vision” in a way which necessarily takes into “the concerns of the users.”
McCurdy said tech industries “do not always have the ability to be useable across multiple platforms,” and that “not every facility has streamlined the process” of new products.
“I hope wearable and digital health data will become more embedded into the culture of healthcare,” McCurdy said.
A recent op-ed published in healthcare design magazine by Kara Freihoefer shares McCurdy’s passion, but for what Freihoefer calls “empathetic design,” a way “for designers to truly see and experience the healthcare environment as patients see and experience it.”
And McCurdy does believe that “new technology, like devices and apps, are reimagining what healthcare might look like, and bringing healthcare out of the hospital, and into the community,” she said.
Given the obstacles providers and patients face, McCurdy said designers should primarily focus their efforts on, “building stronger doctor and patient communication and relationships.”
And designers have their work cut out for them. The global mobile health market an estimated $28 billion is expected to be generated on sales in 2018.
Wearables, and other health and fitness devices can be helpful at tackling a multitude of health issues. There are devices which assist with things such as tracking exercise and calorie intake for those with obesity, a hybrid closed-loop insulin delivery system for those diabetes, or a pacemaker is a for someone with sleep apnea. Mobile health devices can even assist with post-surgery recovery as reported in the Cleveland Clinic’s predictions on medical innovations in 2018.
For McCurdy — the success of her work — and that of many other designers is fueled by a personal motive to make healthcare an easier maze to navigate.
“I was struggling with a bunch of symptoms, and a light turned on to use the skill set I bring to design work — there is so much potential in making things better for other patients,” McCurdy said.