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5 Ways to create digital healthcare products that work, by applying human-centred design

COVID-19 has accelerated most organizations’ plans for digital transformation dramatically – the slow shift to digital adoption was forced to happen much more quickly due to the pandemic, and many organisations, including those in the Healthcare Industry, rushed to create digital solutions to replace or augment many of their traditional processes and interactions.

Unfortunately, many of these healthcare providers ended up creating less than ideal experiences for both their patients and staff (doctors, nurses, admin staff), typically because they were simply trying to turn their old (paper based and legacy) processes into a digital form or did not follow a proper design process.

To shape the future of healthcare, we will have to successfully address the three big trends – consumerism, industrialization, and consolidation – through consistent digitalization.

Bernd Montag, CEO of Siemens Healthineers (

As Head of Consulting at global design firm Sand Dollar Design, I have worked with dozens of companies over the years to help them achieve better business outcomes (that include better patient and staff experience, higher productivity and improved business results) by applying a thorough User-Centered Design approach when solving business problems, including successful Digital Transformation Programmes.

Below are five principles we follow at Sand Dollar Design to create digital products that work in any industry, including healthcare:

1. Make sure you understand the user (patient or healthcare staff) and their needs

Human-centered design means designing for every aspect of a user – their needs, their goals, their context and behaviours. How can we create solutions for our patients, our doctors or our nurses if we do not understand these elements of their lives? A critical part of our process is to spend time with the actual users, in their context, to observe and interview them, in order to get a better understanding of who they are, what their pain points and priorities are, and how they think and communicate.

“Design is really an act of communication, which means having a deep understanding of the person with whom the designer is communicating.”

Don Norman

We use artefacts like User Personas to illustrate “archetypes” of the different user groups we identify, and this creates a wonderful platform to start the design process with – it gets the whole team, including client/business stakeholders, designers and IT/Development on the same page, and creates a shared reference of who we are creating solutions for.

2. Consider the entire process

One of the biggest mistakes that can be made by designers is to only think about the screens / interfaces of the system they are designing, which leads to pretty apps and websites that do not really meet the user needs or deliver business outcomes. According to ISO 9241-210:2019 (the de-facto standard for user-centred design) the design process should address the whole user experience.

Our design team incorporates activities like user journey mapping, where we bring together the insights from our ethnographic studies of the users, to illustrate the entire process (similar to customer journey mapping or service design), with a focus on:

  • How the process works across different channels
  • What are the pain points
  • What are the barriers
  • What are competitors or non-competitors doing that we can learn from / avoid doing?
  • This activity leads to the generation of ideas based on research and insights

3. Leverage best practice

The Healthcare Industry can actually benefit from being a bit late to the party when it comes to Digital Solutions. Other industries like Banking, Insurance and Telecommunications have spent years researching and evolving best practices to create improved user experiences for their users – and it’s not necessary for Healthcare to start the process from scratch.

Our design team leverages design best practice and identifies innovative ways that solutions from other industries may be applied to different domains such as healthcare, to come up with digital solutions that are innovative, usable and scalable for our clients.

4. Validate every design

User testing (or usability testing) is a qualitative research method that is used to validate designs. This process ensures that you identify possible usability issues that can be fixed before investing in development costs (or even worse – launching a broken product). By testing with as few as 5 to 8 users of a specific user group, you should be able to identify most usability issues with a high degree of certainty.

Our team of researchers and designers do not try and make their designs look good when conducting user testing – their aim is to identify the 1% or 2% of improvements that can still be made to improve the user experience. It takes a special mindset to be open to observing where your design might not be perfectly meeting the user needs, or making sense to them, but this is what we strive for – use every source of insight to get to the best possible design.

“You can use an eraser on the drafting table or a sledge hammer on the construction site.”

Frank Lloyd Wright

No matter how much “best practice” or research was used to craft a great design – user testing almost always provides some new insight or surprise that assists in creating a better experience that is more user-centric. User testing is your insurance policy when it comes to making sure a design is going to be successful.

5. Measure whether you are achieving success

Ultimately, it all comes down to the numbers. One of the key elements to define when you are creating a new digital solution, is to define “How will we measure success” up front? It is vital to understand what the current experience and outcomes are (i.e. create a benchmark) and then ensure that you are building in ways to measure the experience and outcomes in the new proposed solution.

At Sand Dollar Design, we strategically advise our clients to incorporate a mix of the following metrics as part of their Digital Transformation Strategy:

  • performance metrics such as visitor numbers to your website, number of registrations, number of completed tasks, number of completed consultations, time per digital consultation, etc.
  • experience metrics, such as Customer Effort Score and/or Touchpoint Net Promoter Score (NPS)
  • outcome based metrics, such as Patient Adherence to treatment plan, Revenue or Profit per user / channel etc.

Healthcare providers (and any other industry) would ensure much better satisfaction for their patients / clients, improved healthcare outcomes and a much-improved employee experience for their staff if they were to follow these principles outlined above, and should expect no less from their design teams/partners when implementing digital transformation programmes or digital health solutions.

About Sand Dollar Design

Sand Dollar Design is a global design consulting firm, with a focus and passion for re-imagining the Patient and Provider experience through Digital Health interventions, in order to achieve greater Health outcomes for all.

Find out more about our services at or get in touch today.

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