Five tips to succeed with user-centered health innovation

From the webinar "How to succeed with user-centred health innovation"

Before Martine started working as a design and innovation consultant, she spent nearly ten years working in healthcare. In a webinar arranged together with our client SUS (Stavanger University Hospital) and Morten Pederson from EGGS Stavanger, she gave tips and insights into successfully working with user-centred health innovation. In this article, you can read her five best tips.

As a former healthcare worker, I’ve felt the enormous joy and pride you feel when you do a great job and succeed in helping people. But, I’ve also felt the frustrating feeling of not having enough time, resources or being hindered by inefficient processes or systems. We have a fantastic healthcare system in Scandinavia, and I have immense respect for everyone who works in it. However, there is also great potential to innovate within these systems and improve the experience for both health care staff and patients. Below, I share a few of the learnings I’ve had from working with user-centric innovation processes in the healthcare sector.

1.Ensure that the right people are included

First of all, I’d like to point out the importance of spending time and energy mapping out who should be involved in the project. It’s vital that everyone whom the process will impact is included in it as early as possible. Needs often vary greatly between different users and user groups, which is why it's essential to identify all of these individuals and groups. This needs to be done on two levels:

1. The project group. In the core project group, you need to include a wide range of stakeholders that can give different perspectives, but at the same time, you also need to have a clear priority of whom to include. If the group is too large, it’s easy to lose focus and momentum in the project.

2. The user insight group.On this level, it’s important to involve users of different kinds. For example, healthcare workers, patients, and next of kin. Ensuring that these people’s input is included is essential – the users are the experts on user experience.

In a project for Topro, the focus was to develop a rollator that could incentivise the user to be more physically active. To be able to tdo that, we collected user insight from several user groups - both from patients and health care workers.

To ensure that all relevant people are represented in the group, you should identify and involve the "margins." In other words, identify the users with the most challenging needs on both ends. If you can design a good solution for them, you will have succeeded in designing a good solution for everyone. For example, we can take the water tap where you can adjust the water temperature using only one hand. It was designed to suit people who only have one arm, but it works well for everyone.

"The users are the experts on user experience."
Martine Akselberg Hatlebrekke, Designer, EGGS Design Bergen

2. Quantitative + qualitative insight = true

As innovation consultants, we find the most complete information for understanding user needs in the intersection of quantitative and qualitative insight. In other words, we get the best result if we combine both these types of data. By analysing available statistics and data, we can identify patterns and get the big picture. We can understand how and what. On the other hand, by talking to individual users, we can get a deeper understanding of their experiences. We can then also gain an understanding of why. What are the motivations and drivers behind the experiences?Here, it is essential to accept the fact that all experiences are just as valid – there is no wrong or right experience.

In a project for Drammen Municipality, we wanted to understand why immigrant women were over-represented in patients with type 2 diabetes. To get the necessary insight, we worked with both quantitative data and qualitative user insight interviews.

3. Experiment and visualise

My third piece of advice is about experimenting and visualising. By doing this, you can get a better shared understanding of the problem you're trying to solve together. User insight through interviews is essential, but another way of gathering qualitative insight is by experimenting and prototyping. When you physically test out a solution, you get an immediate and reliable response. It allows you to learn (and often – fail)fast. It’s a great way to see how users interact in real life with a tool or service and gives you valuable information on how to improve it.

Using visualisation is also a great way to make ideas more concrete. It allows you to make complex ideas and problems easier to understand and facilitates the conversation about them. Often, it helps to put everybody on a team on the same page and to create a shared understanding.

"Visualisation and experimenting are simple ways to get an understanding of what a solution can look like. This allows you to fail and learn fast – and cheap."
Martine Akselberg Hatlebrekke, Designer, EGGS Design Bergen

4. Think implementation from the get-go

It’s extremely valuable to keep implementation in mind from the very start of a project. It increases the success rate of implementation when we make sure that the project is anchored well with those who will be affected by the change after the implementation. This means that people should be involved as early in the process as possible. It helps to think that implementation shouldn’t start after a project is finished - it should start at the very beginning. When you involve users and other stakeholders from the get-go, you have much higher chances of succeeding with the implementation.

5. Respect people’s time and establish trust

Last but not least, it's vital to show users – and especially health care workers – respect for their time. Health care staff are more often than not highly pressed for time, so it’s essential not to waste it. Moreover, when it comes to health care, health care professionals, and patients, there is often sensitive information and personal stories involved. This makes it extra important to be respectful and to work to establish a sense of trust. That way, we can build a bridge between complexity and vulnerability.

All in all, there is great potential in inviting the users – be they healthcare professionals or patients - to participate in the innovation and change process. They are the true experts on the user experience and are absolutely essential in developing successful new services and tools in the healthcare sector. Together we can create better, more human-centered healthcare.

Sounds interesting?

Martine  Akselberg Hatlebrekke

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Martine Akselberg Hatlebrekke
+47 930 05 350
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