Patient centricity is everything (or is it)?

Patient centricity is regularly cited as a critical factor in the success or failure of many new, digitally enabled healthcare solutions. Indeed, a focus on patient needs offers the context critical to designing successful solutions. A solution may be technically advanced and clinically effective, but if we don’t like the look of it, find it hard to use or if it adds burdens to our already cluttered lives, we will simply stop using it… even if that wonderful technology seeks to improve our health or save our life! So, designing solutions that are focussed on meeting patient needs makes a lot of sense and it is definitely a step forward. But this will not be news to you.

The familiar argument continues…

Patients are consumers too and bring with them expectations from the consumer world

for how an interface or a device should work. As the consumer and medical worlds blur, organisations that don’t create products and service ecosystems that patients actually want to use will lose out. The increasing amount of choice for patients is changing the dynamic of the relationship.

‘Healthcare consumers’ will use solutions they actively prefer and can easily engage with.

Eddie Martucci of Akili interactive (an FDA-approved video game prescribed for ADHD therapy) was one of many who made this point at CES 2021: “The science and the entertainment or experience are equal pillars. Just being digital isn’t enough — it has to be amazing and wonderful to use.”

The UX and UI are not simply a ‘nice to have’ they are as critical as the scientific and technological underpinnings of the solution.

If we want to produce successful digital health solutions, marrying science and design is critical.

If science and technology are the art of the possible, then patient-centred design is the art of the preferable.

Healthcare organisations must embrace this now (if they haven’t already).

So, why is patient centricity not quite cutting it? To me, the term suggests too much of a focus on the patient. Healthcare is far more complex than this and requires you to think in terms of systems and a wide group of stakeholders and actors rather than just patient needs.

A purely patient-centric approach may reduce burden for the patient, but when solutions are designed through that lens alone, they can be myopic and increase burden for the others in the ecosystem, thus tempting failure. Crucially we are talking about the knock-on effects for clinicians, carers and families. We must design solutions with full context of both the patient and clinician requirements.

Without understanding how the whole system works, we are in danger of designing solutions that reduce patient burden but have negative consequences for other actors in the system.

Human Centred design is not the same as patient (user) centred design. It’s a subtle turn of language, but the nuance, I believe, is critical to designing successful healthcare solutions for the future.

Digital health solutions should be advantageous for everyone involved directly or indirectly. It’s that context thing again!

Thank you to Matt Millington for his thoughts.

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