Think user first in digitalised healthcare services
“So you are one of the developers of those S.O.B’s?” This was the opening line of my conversation with a distinguished chief physician. The atmosphere was heavy enough to keep me from bragging about our latest development projects. For once, I decided to keep my mouth shut and listen – instead of ranting about the usefulness and necessity of new, digital self-care solutions.
The physician gave a heavy sigh and started recalling his nasty experiences with the digital world. “To get the patient data displayed, I need to log in to three different systems. On a good day, everything goes well. But one thing is sure – the systems are completely unable to interact with each other.” The day-to-day life at clinics is also haunted by a number of different information security and data protection rules and regulations, making sure that communication with patients, not to mention their family members, is time-consuming and difficult, if not downright impossible.
This little one-to-one is illustrative of the many user experiences resulting from badly working systems and gadgets and narrow-minded rules that have to be adhered to, whether they suit today’s life or not. But what if health services were developed solely for the everyday needs of patients and healthcare professionals, based on nothing else but their requirements? We have a better chance to take this option than ever before.
I’d like to emphasise that a huge shift has taken place in the attitudes towards health information, information systems and their use. We used to think that medical records must be kept locked up in closed digital archives. All energy and resources were spent on ensuring the safety of the locking system. God forbid that anyone should unnecessarily access the archives, least of all patients themselves!
So far, healthcare professionals have been forced to make do with data integrated in different information systems, principally meant for archiving and notoriously complicated and painful to analyse or use further. Patients, on the other hand, may have been able to access their own medical records, but not to use them. People have not been allowed to use their medical records, since the right of ownership belongs to the data controller. Of what use, indeed, could your own medical records ever be to you?
So far, patients may well have been the least used resource in healthcare. But today, more and more people are concerned about their own well-being and want to have more information and tools to support their health. This means a major opportunity for the entire healthcare system, when people are taking active part in maintaining their health and caring for their illnesses. This trend is supported by the national citizens’ health account, MyKanta, which will become available in less than two years.
To balance the bad experiences, there have been plenty of good ones with the new electronic tools and services that help in saving time and costs of physicians, provide a quicker access to care and result in better responses. Here, I am quoting the opinions of healthcare professionals and patients on several experiments done with services such as mobile appointments with a GP and remote consultations with another doctor in the course of care process. Many people are also interested in a new service developed by Sitra: a provisional online analysis of your symptoms based on general medical information and your own medical and patient records.
A third example of an excellent self-care application is Noona, helping cancer patients fight their illness by giving them an active role in their own care. The application is able to identify complications and screen early symptoms of cancer independently without a physician’s help. Best solutions are always found by listening – to patients, to healthcare professionals, to the man in the street. This is what the Noona team did by taking the needs of patients and physicians as their starting point and developing the service in close cooperation with the Helsinki University Hospital Cancer Center.
Digital information can be a source of new, better services, if correctly used. The best digital solutions are invisible and unnoticeable and help in providing users with the services they need – quickly, easily, anytime. If everything goes well, using the services can be rewarding, even fun. This is the case when, for example, an application enables you to provide priceless peer-to-peer support to others.
But what was the outcome of our conversation with that chief physician, completely frustrated with the digital world? Probably he did not became a true friend of digital services just yet, but he promised to take part in our next test. And he was right, after all: it’s user experiences, and nothing else, that help us to deliver on our promises of superior e-services.