As the daughter of an Emergency Room doctor and nurse who wanted me to follow their lead into medicine, I had a somewhat unusual childhood. I experienced my first human dissection at age eleven and treated a simulated cerebral aneurysm before I could drive. While I was being molded into the future Dr. Valentine through every “doctor camp” offered in North America, I was taking mail-order art classes and attempting to sell my masterpieces in a local restaurant. I was expected to become a doctor, but my true passion lay in making things.
Medicine seemed like the ‘real’ career path and making things, a hobby on the side. I was all set to head off to the state university for pre-med studies, but as the time grew closer to graduation I realized I wouldn’t survive without a more creative degree, and found Parsons the School for Design. I boldly challenged the familial expectation to become a doctor, moving to New York City to become an interior designer and make things pretty.
During the summers, I would work at a snowboard camp in Oregon, returning to school with lungs full of fresh air and a head full of fresh perspective. One summer ended abruptly and unexpectedly from a snowboarding accident. After landing on my spine on the edge of a snowboard rail, I landed myself in the local hospital.
My experience in that emergency room changed my perspective on design forever. Within the chaotic environment of the ER, it seemed all the players within this system had no idea what their roles were or how to interact with me—the patient. Processes were so broken that I almost ended up in the Operating Room for surgery instead of going to Radiology to get a basic x-ray. I could not understand how professionals who were there to save lives—and who worked in this environment every day—seemed utterly incompetent. That’s when I realized all the mistakes I was witnessing were not of human error, but of design flaw. Poor design of patient I.D. bracelets lead me to the O.R. Bad space design and planning caused treatment delays when staff had to run back and forth for supplies. On top of it all, before getting a valid diagnosis, I was placed on a temporary ventilator leaving me unable to communicate, completely helpless, and forced to put my life in their hands.
Going through that experience is how I ended up as a UX designer. I recognized that design had a greater purpose than making things pretty and that understanding user needs and behaviors was an integral part of design to not only fix broken systems but to create new and better experiences, in a lasting way.
I began my UX career working internally within the Design Strategy team, part of the Strategic Planning & Innovation group, at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. MSKCC is a top specialized healthcare organization heavily focused on research, innovation, and leadership within cancer care. The team’s mission was clear and simple: improve the patient's experience, whether through direct services or large-scale initiatives that would have a profound impact on the whole institution. We explored how we could create better experiences through service, space, communication, and interaction design that would improve lives, increase survival rate, or decrease risk for error or patient harm.
While my work at MSKCC was exciting, challenging, and meaningful, I was eager to expand my outlook. I was looking for broader understanding on design, people, and different types of problems, which lead me to Adaptive Path. While I am here, I hope to gain a more extensive perspective on UX and service design in healthcare. I hope that more exposure to other industries will grant me deeper insight into designing better services and experiences for people, in and outside of healthcare.
Here are some UX-in-healthcare things I have been thinking about lately:
► Everyone is jumping on the “mobile and health IT” bandwagon, but it seems there is very little thought (and money) being put into an integrated cross-channel strategy and continuity for patients and care providers.
► Because consumers are becoming more empowered, the traditional delivery models of healthcare are changing. This is going to have major impact on our healthcare system—from cost to patient experience.
► A patient’s frame of mind can change on a daily basis based on how they feel that day, progression of their disease, what treatment they are on, or if they were given good or bad news—making UX an even more challenging feat in healthcare.
► I believe students could be the key to major healthcare change. This is purely from experience, but decision-making stakeholders do not fear “crazy innovative” ideas coming from students and may even feel inspired. Healthcare leaders are sometimes more willing to play in a workshop when it is lead by students.
► I believe UX and Industrial Engineering can be a power couple when married appropriately. In many instances I’ve seen that the streamlining of processes and more efficient thinking about utilization have resulted in better experiences for patients. An overwhelmed patient will immediately recognize discontinuity, repetition, and a broken flow in their experience.
► Adoption is difficult unless the doctors are on board. This does not apply to all UX and design in healthcare scenarios and I don’t know if I believe it 100%, but it was definitely something I was seeing a lot when working internally. Everyone else could believe in a concept, but if the doctor did not, he or she could easily persuade the patient otherwise. Patients put a lot of trust in their doctor being their main source of information in the healthcare space. If doctors are not endorsing the idea, the value may not be apparent. (Maybe big Pharmaceutical companies knew about this from the start?)
I'll be writing more about this topic and would love to hear your thoughts about UX in healthcare. Leave some comments!