HxRefactored, the conference put on jointly by Health 2.0 & Mad*Pow about technology & design in health care, draws a relatively small crowd–participants numbered in the hundreds, not the tens of thousands found at some health conferences. So I asked a leading health IT expert, Shahid Shah, why he invests so much effort in coming and make presentations to HxRefactored each year. He answered, “This is the only health IT event that covers not just the digital aspects, but the entire healthcare experience, focused on developers and designers who are building solutions. It goes beyond platitudes, cheerleading, and hand waving and gets into actionable advice that engineers need to know to build complex systems that will actually get used.”
And that really shows the key influence provided by design, broadly defined. You can get as “meta” as you want and stay within the field of design:
- Worried whether your staff will adapt to and use a new IT system? Success with that is a design goal.
- Determined not to let an IT system “get in the way,” but to ensure it enhances relationship-building with patients? Definitely a matter of design.
- Eager to make innovation a standard kind of thinking throughout your institution? Designers with the proper combination of support and independence can get you there.
Reflecting the sweep of design itself, sessions at HxRefactored varied from chronicling the path to successful designs, to describing the contributions technologies make, to recommending strategies for getting designs adopted.
Design as a way of Life
A hoary shibboleth of design is that practitioners must seek out users and collaborate tightly with them. A more pointed statement of that principle is to turn all users into designers. This means not flying in to do a design, collecting your pay, and taking off again. Instead, designers hang out in the hallways to meet people, cajole users into joining creativity workshops, and–with teeth gritted–attend committee meetings.
Comprehensive engagement came up from the start of the conference, as when Adam Connor in his keynote pointed out that isolated researcher can’t transfer their insights automatically to others in the organization–everyone in the organization must participate in user research. He also pointed out that no system makes sense except when one views the larger environment of which it is a part.
The CTO of HHS, Susannah Fox, in her inspiring keynote, said “Technology is a Trojan Horse for change…We say interoperability and open data, but we mean culture change.” Design, for her, must recognize people without power, which currently includes most patients and their caregivers.
Fox championed Maker-style innovation at the grassroots, such as promoted in the famous work of Eric von Hippel at MIT. Hundreds of people are making custom prosthetics, for instance. She also mentioned that a very useful sleeve to keep an IV firmly in a child’s skin was designed by a parent. Similarly, patients could improve their medical devices, but manufacturers deny patients access to their own device-generated information, and prohibit patients from making changes. Patients who lack access to research labs and academic libraries are finding the information online to improve their experiences. Fox didn’t describe the risks and downsides of these practices, but I found that acceptable because the risks and downsides are cited all too often to throw up barriers to competition and innovation.