4 tactical steps to designing for digital health

design digital health

Third in an ongoing series of Innovator’s Roadmap posts from Boston Children’s Hospital’s Innovation & Digital Health Accelerator (IDHA). Matt Murphy is Innovation Lead at IDHA.

We recently provided market sizing guidelines for healthcare innovators — strategies to help you determine your innovation’s total number of potential users and your sales opportunities. Next, we’ll take you through our approach to designing digital health products.

The research and design phase is a critical step in the development and commercialization of digital health innovations. This phase is often referred to as user-centered design or human factors design. It requires a significant investment in understanding your users (including clinicians, clinical teams, patients and/or caregivers) and their pain points (problems they repeatedly experience) before developing a technology-based solution.

In our initial consultations with innovators at Boston Children’s Hospital, we spend only a small amount of time discussing end technology solutions. Instead, we seek to understand the intended users, their pain points and how they will interact with the innovation, including clinical, workflow and business considerations.

It’s market research taken a step further. We recommend you follow a specific four-step procedure to optimize the research and design phase.

1. Define your project’s goals

design digital health - ideas on wallProject goals should clearly articulate your vision. But where does your vision originate? User-centered design involves a deep understanding of clinical pain points. Pain points can occur in different frequencies, from daily to weekly or even monthly to annually, and can happen on any scale, affecting individuals, teams or institutions. The bottom line is that project goals should articulate your vision for a solution to a pain point.

Well-defined project goals will keep your innovation focused and prevent non-critical functions, commonly referred to as “nice-to-haves,” from becoming a distraction. Project goals are not impermeable, though, and may be altered along the way.

How: Follow these guidelines in writing project goals.

  • Who are your users? Innovative digital health technologies solve clinical, workflow or process pain points. However, they must be adopted by a specific user population. Be sure to identify your primary users up front in your stated project goals.
  • Think solutions, not technologies: There are countless words to describe digital health technologies, from apps to platforms and beyond. However, your project goals should focus on your solution, not the type of technology it utilizes. For example, “integrated, real-time rounding checklist” is a better phrase than “app” for a project goal.
  • Who does your technology impact? In addition to your direct users, identify who else will be impacted by your innovation. For example, a mobile app improving the workflow of clinical teams will likely also improve the quality of care for patients as clinical teams operate in a more efficient, organized manner.

design digital health

2. Consider the question of buy-in

You may need buy-in not just from your end user, but from other stakeholders, depending on the scope of your project. Clinical tools often require departmental buy-in, while patient-facing tools often require legal and IRB approval. User adoption will be difficult unless these stakeholders are involved and supportive from the start.

How: The following tips will enable you to approach the right audiences at the right time.

  • Determine your audience. As described above, review your project goals to define the population(s) that will directly use your technology and additional population(s) that will benefit from your innovation.
  • Determine your ecosystem. Starting from your user populations, identify the relevant stakeholders. If your primary users are clinicians, review your clinical network to craft a path for buy-in around your technology. If your primary users are patients, determine which bodies (legal, regulatory and otherwise) must provide support for your innovation.

3. Ideate to the best solution

design digital health - ideationInnovation is, undoubtedly, contingent on creative thinking. Fortunately, there are hundreds of ideation techniques and meeting formats to spark creative thinking. Anyone can lead a session around a digital project, so long as the right stakeholders are represented.

How: To ensure the success of any ideation meeting:

  • Set a clear agenda. Determine a purpose for the meeting and set time limits for each agenda item.
  • Invite the right people. Stakeholders can include users, secondary users, relevant clinical or research experts, or someone who will oversee the project. Research from the “ensuring buy-in” step will help you identify the right stakeholders.
  • Set expectations for meeting outputs. What do you want your meeting to accomplish? What questions should it answer? Establish clear goals and distribute them to meeting stakeholders in advance of your session.

4. Gather and list project requirements

Project requirements will wrap a distinct set of parameters around your digital health innovation. Your project will need to meet three primary types of requirements: business requirements, functional requirements and technical requirements.

How: First identify your business and functional requirements, informed by your research, and then your technical requirements. Business requirements may include specific restrictions on an innovation in the healthcare space, or regulations that might affect its commercial development. Functional requirements include documenting the volume of transactions your platform needs to support or, critically in health care, security and privacy considerations. Technical requirements include software development platforms and methods for connecting your digital health innovation with other digital systems and platforms.

design digital health

Requirements, and the process required to gather and write requirements, are covered in-depth in the complete Innovator’s Roadmap. With your requirements in hand, you’ll be ready for the next step — building a prototype. That’s the topic of our next post.

Download the complete Innovator’s Roadmap.