Healthcare is defined as making medical care available for an individual or larger community. As such, one would think that the primary objective of healthcare initiatives is satisfying patients and their needs. What has become evident when considering the healthcare sector and its many divisions, is that the actual experience of patients is an overlooked component to the delivery of services. What has happened traditionally, is that the health industry has innovated around the goals of commercialization while neglecting what their innovation means to patients. Recently, the advancements in the healthcare industry have indeed accelerated with the adoption of new technologies and the Internet of Things (IoT). However, it is surprising that these advancements have mostly been formulated using purely scientific approaches, while putting the patient experience as a secondary objective. This becomes a challenge when implementing a system that relies on effective patient interaction. It could cost time and money, and could lead to a potential gap in the healthcare space, should the innovation not be accepted by the users. To counter the current methods of innovation, a movement towards prioritizing patient experiences would allow a shift towards design models that could improve healthcare, as well as ensure sustainable growth in the field.
A potential solution to outdated design philosophies is a new patient-as-a-designer model. Using this method in the health sector allows the innovative space to extend beyond technical rigidity and simply listening to what patients and clinicians are saying, but rather directly includes them within the design phases of development. When including patients as not only stakeholders, but also as active contributors to the very ideas that affect their health, they are given agency and responsibility to create ways in which their lives and others could improve. This model can be viewed as a subset of human-centred Design (HCD), which puts the focus of the primary stakeholders at the forefront of design, development, and implementation. It is an added criteria for the success of an idea, where the user experience design (UX) becomes primary to ideation. This method of design has allowed innovators to better understand the behaviors and needs of consumers, and as a result, when applied on a large scale, it has created an advantageous approach when addressing global health challenges.
Global health faces major obstacles that are rooted in the complexity of directing and coordinating stakeholder ecosystems, the challenge in altering recipients’ behaviors, the barriers in scaling compelling solutions, and the task of appropriately measuring impact. Human-Centered Design is well suited to tackle these issues by actively engaging users, providers, and other constituencies throughout the development process to ensure that their needs and expectations inform design decisions and lead to a higher likelihood of adoption and lasting human impact.
Including the users at the inception of programs increases the likelihood of continued participation after implementation and ensures sustainability. While there are numerous examples of human-centered public health interventions and initiatives, this approach is limited in policy-making. Global health initiatives aimed at noncommunicable diseases have generally always focused on dissecting human behavior in an effort to create preventative programs for high-risk populations as such, this field of global health could benefit immensely from a human-centered design policy approach. At a panel held the UN General Assembly (2017), Cajsa Lindberg, President of UNG Diabetes highlighted the need for an increase in patient advocates in policy saying,
The power of patient advocates is that they are the experts on what they want, what they need, and what needs to be changed. Data alone cannot cause change”
Community health workers and patient advocates are stakeholders that should be involved in the policy-making process. Given that NCD programs address the social determinants of health and the economic complexities of countries such as agriculture and trade it would also be necessary to involve non-traditional health stakeholders to prevent the reverberation of ideas.
Although this approach requires an intensive commitment of time and resources, it has great potential to develop specific, appropriate, tailored interventions that are completely user-driven with greater user investment and commitment. It is necessary to rethink the manner in which innovation exists in the health space, so that ideas and solutions cater to what the end-user needs. This will ensure longevity and efficacy while also contributing to an advancement in solving global health challenges.