Last month, I had the pleasure of attending HxRefactored, a conference focused on improving health experiences through technology and design. More than 500 participated, including developers, designers, healthcare professionals, researchers, and entrepreneurs. It was great to be a part of an interdisciplinary discussion with others equally passionate about improving healthcare design and delivery.  

At HITLAB, we understand the importance of keeping the user’s experience (UX) in mind when designing technology for healthcare.  In our research and evaluation of health technologies, we regularly use qualitative and quantitative methodologies to yield critical insights about user needs and a technology’s usability that may not have been possible without such review.  Regularly exploring questions such as, “Who are our users?” “What do our users want?” and “How will this technology integrate into a user’s life or workflow?” are critical to ideating, creating, and evaluating effective solutions in health.  Similar principles of human-centered design were a focus at HxRefactored, and speakers and panelists provided practical information about tools and methods to successfully implement them.  It was inspiring to hear what others are doing to rethink the healthcare experience.

Here are my takeaways from the event:

Kyra Bobinet, in a session on designing for behavior change, brought a neuroscience perspective to motivation and focused on the importance of emotion in healthcare design.  Recognizing the intimacy of health, she advocated for tapping into positive emotional drivers in order to ignite long-term change, yet cautioned, “Be humble about what we can and can’t do with technology.”

Keynote speaker John Brownstein, ever brimming with exciting new technologies in epidemiology, highlighted StreetRx, a tool for crowdsourcing black market prescription drug prices for public health ends.  

At Mad*Pow’s morning research methods workshop, Susan Mercer and Dan Berlin drove home some of the basic principles underlying UX research and why it’s critical in the healthcare design process, including these:

  • We need UX research because it removes assumptions from the design process and keeps us from designing the wrong product for the problem we’re trying to solve. 

  • UX research brings a human-centered approach to design.

  • UX research doesn’t seek to prove things; it is directional, meant to inform design and development.

  • And on a practical note, incorporating UX research can save money and time in the design and development process. 

  • Numerous UX research study types, which can be adapted to the specific context, were explored in the workshop, including: usability studies, user interviews, focus groups, ethnography, collaging, surveys, diary studies, and eye-tracking and biometrics.  Two of these methods may be unfamiliar to our readers, but are quite interesting!

    • Collaging, described as a “medium for story-telling,” is simple, yet evocative and often used in high-level exploration. Researchers give participants a random selection of photographs and instruct them to create collages around a theme.  The researcher’s role, most importantly, is to listen and document as the participant explains the collage during an interview following the art project.

    • Ethnography as applied in UX research is different from traditional Ethnography, where a researcher participates in the daily routines of a social setting, develops ongoing relations with the people in it, and records these observations.  In UX research for healthcare technology—a fast-paced, resource-constrained, business-oriented world—ethnography typically involves a shorter period of observation, focusing inquiry on how the user or patient interfaces with technology in the environment.    

Darshan Mehta, an instructor in medicine at Harvard, walked us through his research on chronic stress and mind-body medicine, and then led conference attendees in a short mediation.  Once the group had quieted and relaxed, he ended the session asking, “What if our doctor’s visits started this way?”  It was a provocative pause, allowing the audience to glimpse how we might reimagine healthcare experiences.

HxRefactored was a fascinating exploration of issues essential to designing and developing effective and needed solutions in healthcare.  At HITLAB, we’re always on the look-out for new ideas and innovations and are eager to implement and share our learnings along the way.


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