Why We Need More Doctors Doing Healthcare UX
Dr Gyles Morrison, founding member of CUXA, explains why he thinks we need more doctors to branch out in to Clinical UX Design.
Even before I was a teenager I’ve loved working with computers. I had no qualms opening up a machine and replacing parts. I say machines because it wasn’t just desktop computers; I’ve even opened up a PlayStation 2 and 3 a few times. I wanted to know how they worked, how to fix them, and even how to make them better though upgrades.
Yet working as an IT professional was not my first profession despite it being a major desire (straight after wanting to be a world renowned writer and artist at the tender age of 5…). I worked as a medical doctor for 3 years. Although I loved the patients, I was more than fed up with some of the awful software clinical staff have to use. Worse still is how far behind we are in truly taking advantage of modern technology.
Pretty much every doctor in the NHS has a mobile phone on them at all times, and many use it to do their jobs. But it’s to use apps developed by teams outside the NHS that may not even be endorsed by the hospital the doctor works in let alone the NHS itself. This in itself is not the problem. It rather highlights how resourceful people can be. But it does show that there isn’t enough of a coordinated effort in designing solutions for clinicians. The main reason for this is that so few clinicians actually work in IT.
Now this is a real shame, because doctors, even the technophobes, can change things if in the very least they are consulted. It’s a very simple user centred philosophy; design systems with the needs, wants and limitations of the end user in mind. But having a doctor who knows technology work on developing technology of tomorrow is a great way of increasing the quality of an IT project. I’m biased of course since this is my day job now, yet it’s all true.
1) Doctors know healthcare
Even doctors fresh out of medical school have a better idea of healthcare than most IT professionals because they have immersed themselves in that environment for years. Combine at least a few years of medical practice, and you have an individual who doesn’t just know the lingo, they various stresses and strains, highs and lows, felt by clinicians. They know what clinicians want, and certainly know what they don’t want.
2) Doctors understand User Centred Design
Modern doctors, especially those trained in the UK, are taught about Patient Centred Care which is all about keeping the patient at the centre of all decision making. This decision making process is not just done by the clinician for the patient; it’s also done with the patient. Doctors genuinely care about the wellbeing of their patients, that’s why they are willing to not have lunch or going for a wee just so they can continue giving great care. This is exactly the same as User Centred Design (often minus the lack of food and toilet breaks), the only difference being that the user doesn’t have to be a patient. It could be anybody. With that said, we certainly need more digital healthcare solutions which gives all patients and every clinical member of staff they ever need to see full access to their clinical records (unless a patient doesn’t give permission, although that should go without saying…). Yes, even if a doctor is working on an IT project to create a digital solution for doctors, they should not be just designing for themselves. They should in fact be using their clinical skills to get all the facts they need from the users so they can make informed decisions, which nicely leads on to…
3) Diagnosing patients is like diagnosing IT solutions
This one might seem strange, but trust me, I’m a Dr.
The whole process of going from presenting complaint, e.g. “Dr I’ve got chest pain”, to confirmed diagnosis, “It’s not a heart attack Mr Jones. You’re just have indigestion, have a rennies.” is the same as being asked to make a website and having it developed and released. You can find out more about this in one of my other posts by clicking here.
To summarise though, in IT, you still have to take a detailed history, gather further information that the client could not (or would not) give to you, then using the support of further investigations, come up with solutions to solve the digital or technological request or conundrum, and then use the best solution.
4) Doctors make for great Champions
To get buy in from a community as humongous as the clinical community, you will need insiders. In the UK, doctors don't run hospitals, managers do. But that is slowly changing. More importantly, the younger generations of Doctors are much more interested in change management and improvement. They are often from Generation Y and so embrace modern technology. This is the generation you will want to engage if you want to find someone most likely to be enthusiastic about working on IT projects and making them successful post launch.
Now don't get me wrong, change management is complicated. Yet with the right team, change management becomes at least a little easier. You need people who are passionate and doing it because they want to and doctors can be amongst those passionate people!
With more and more (albeit not enough!) opportunities for doctors to take time out from training, they can focus on working or even leading IT projects. Doctors are pretty much the most well respected professionals in the world. Getting them to work together to bring design thinking in to an organisation will have to catch up. It won't happen immediately, especially if the Doctors are very junior. With time, however, as their reputation and experience grows , their ability to influence will grow too.
Put design thinking into the minds of eager doctors, and you will see a change in culture as the years go by.
5) Doctors are more than just doctors
A doctor can be described as a person who has a medical degree and is employed to treat the sick. But doctors are more than their profession. This is really important, not because we should find a way for all doctors to leave medicine and stop being doctors. Rather it is because doctors have so many others skills that they are not using in their day job as a doctor, but could use on IT projects. This includes graphic design and coding skills, which are not the main skills needed on IT projects (although they are very important!). They may not even know that they have the skills until they are given the opportunity to use them.
If you have any doubt that a doctor is more than just a doctor, here’s proof.
Hopefully you can agree that doctors certainly seem qualified enough to do Healthcare UX. So let’s change things.