After attending conferences ranging from the technical to the clinical, this past we had the opportunity to volunteer at HXRefactored, a design conference in Boston, Massachusetts. The conference was greatly enjoyed by each of the fellows, largely as a result of the content mirroring Health for America’s own commitment to the intersection of design, technology, and business in healthcare. As volunteers at the conference, we not only spent time assisting speakers and conference staff, but also working alongside many other volunteers who were fascinated by the same things we were.
Nothing encapsulated the spirit of the conference better than the keynote presented by Susannah Fox, the Chief Technology Officer of the US Department of Health and Human Services. In her talk, Fox stated that “technology is a Trojan horse for change” and that design is what gets that horse through the doors of the fortress. This articulation has been something we’ve discussed at length in the fellowship: how even the shiniest of new technologies is valueless if it isn’t properly designed to engage its users. To this point, Fox used her speech to touch upon the principles of HCD in saying, “The shift to the user innovation model rewards those manufacturers who see those innovations, are open to people’s suggestions, or even hand them the tools to modify a device. They walk alongside the user and they enlist them as partners.”
Beyond the keynote addresses, HXRefactored included three tracks of panel speakers, which covered the spectrum of design-focused, technology-focused, and the intersection of design and technology. While I spent half of my conference volunteering for the technology-focused track, the time I had free I spent in one of the combination tracks, that focused on design in the health insurance industry. The health insurance industry discussion was a fascinating panel to attend as I was one of the few outsiders in the room. I was drawn to the panel because while we spend a significant amount of time in the fellowship discussing what the pain points are of patients, we spend comparably little time trying to understand what the pain points are of those who will hopefully reimburse the products or services we design.
The health insurance panel brought up a topic that we’ve discussed multiple times in the fellowship, which is the connection between healthcare design and the design of financial services. Both industries revolve around the wellbeing of their customers, whether that be physically or financially, and both are topics that people would rather not talk about or consider most of the time, so it makes sense to draw parallels. One case study from the panel that I found particularly intriguing is a comparison of two personal financial management services, Mint and Wesabe, and how Mint came to dominate that market. In his post mortem by the cofounder of Wesabe on why his company lost out to Mint, Marc Hedlund argues:
“Focus on what really matters: making users happy with your product as quickly as you can, and helping them as much as you can after that. If you do those better than anyone else out there you’ll win… I think in this case, Mint totally won at the first (making users happy quickly), and we both totally failed at the second (actually helping people). No one, in my view, solved the financial problems of consumers. No one even got close.”
In medicine, there is a substantial attention rightfully paid toward the latter challenge identified by Hedlund of “actually helping people”. Medicine in the 21st century is increasingly realizing that this is no longer good enough, that successful delivery of care will address the first challenge of “making users happy quickly”. This is the true focus of HXRefactored and of Health for America: how do you design products or services that go that extra mile in healthcare. It’s a challenge we’ve confronted from day one of the fellowship and one which we hope to meet with WellRooted.