While digital health platforms and tools have become increasingly important during the pandemic, the lessons of their deployment hold lessons for digital service design in any field.

Why it matters:

With the endless threat of disruption, healthcare finally seems to be moving forward. However, the barriers to an imagined digital health utopia hold crucial lessons about digital strategy in other industries: namely that it is not about the technology’s potential, but about meeting users where and how they need.

While telemedicine has existed for a long time, the pandemic has accelerated its adoption. (For more, read WARC’s in-depth report: Digital health platforms boom but the pandemic reveals their drawbacks)

But even though the sector has off this massive shift “we’ve missed a tremendous amount of learning in between”, explained Dr. Harpreet Sood, a doctor in the UK’s National Health Service, and a digital health consultant speaking on a recent panel.

“What the system has done is just stick a plaster on. It has not really thought deeply about properly redesigning pathways but just adding another platform on top of what we do today.”

While video technology has become a staple of many people’s social and work lives in the pandemic, it has not been the catch-all that it promised.

“Actually, what we’ve seen is asynchronous medicine – messaging, sending in a photo, collecting data – having far more impact and that’s really harnessing a lot of what you can do with digital; you don’t need to be in the same place at the same time,” says Jacob Haddad, co-founder of AccuRx, a software company that provides communications software for patients and NHS practices.

Similarly, digital provision doesn’t negate the usefulness of physical touchpoints. “We’re not going to talk so much about whether this is digital or this is physical,” observed Martin Lindman, CEO of Doktor.se, a digital healthcare platform that has been extending its physical infrastructure in its native Sweden.

“We’re going to talk about the effort that we make, meeting the patients on an effortless journey, and it depends what that patient is looking for, what the symptoms are, and what the care level [demands]. We need to be prepared to treat that patient, no matter what.”

Two big ideas:
  • Design should be democratic, in as much as it can serve even the lowest end of the market (a little like how app-focused companies such as FacebookTwitter, and Spotify have built ‘lite’ versions of their apps for emerging markets). 
  • Access to health services and advice doesn’t necessarily mean re-inventing the wheel: Sood observed how one of the pandemic’s strange gifts has been the ability to send and receive texts from patients for extra detail. 

Sourced from WARC