Product Design for the Healthcare Sector – Part 2

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By Damián

February 9, 2023

This piece is part 2 of a series about Product Design for the Healthcare Sector. Discover part one here and stay tuned for our next article!

The challenges of the Healthcare Tech Sector from a Startup perspective

As we mentioned in our previous article, the healthcare industry could be positively impacted by digital healthcare products, and yet it sometimes acts in a tech-skeptic, change-averse way. In order to help you go over the complexities of the healthcare tech sector, we have created a visual path of important challenges for tech startups getting into healthcare (download it here).

Let’s explore these important challenges together:

  • Map your current understanding: A technological change always requires changing our habits. But as we mentioned before, the medical profession has its own, established dynamics, and the industry has consolidated players that can impose their own way of working. You don’t only need to understand your potential users’ goals, but also learn about their habits, tools, constraints, and current frustrations. You also have to understand how the existing industry forces operate in their daily work, which could be happening in a totally unconscious way for them. Besides that, there are probably things you already know you don’t understand that you can check, and there are for sure several gaps you are still unaware of. These can be tackled through conversations and direct observations, but how do you keep a registry of them? It will get too complex soon, so mapping what you currently understand will be crucial to make informed decisions later without losing the perspective of the whole picture. What makes this especially challenging for the healthcare industry is that your potential users won’t have much time to help you understand. They will be busy caring for their lives or helping save lives. So here is the real challenge: How can we accelerate the exploration and validation cycle in this problem space while we are shaping the product?
  • Find a Focus: While mapping your current understanding, you’ll find a lot of opportunities and challenges. Your desire to help could quickly turn your initial product idea into an unmanageable features wishlist. It happens, so you need to constantly challenge your team during the process to keep your priorities in place and restrain yourself from reinventing the wheel. What’s the value you are truly adding? How can you focus your time and effort working on it? This is pretty standard advice for all startups, but once you look at the level of fragmentation in the healthcare sector, you will feel really tempted to go for it all. In some cases, it will seem easier too. But that’s also one of the main reasons healthcare startups are currently failing. Finding ways to keep your product focused and work together with what already exists is the hard path but is also much more aligned with the current, realistic needs of the sector.
  • Understand perspectives and conflicting interests: With a complex stakeholder landscape, you have to also understand and map the conflicts that will be affecting the design of your product. What perspectives matter for the focus you’ve chosen? How can you balance the product to fulfill needs and goals simultaneously for them? Understanding this will help you to refine your Product-Market Fit, your Business Model, and your Go-to-Market strategy. While in other sectors you can start from a simple business model and figure this out in a more advanced stage of your startup, conflicts between perspectives in Healthcare cause a product to fail much more frequently.
  • Get involved with the industry: If you don’t have any kind of involvement with the sector yet, this will be your main challenge. Having healthcare partners and an advisory board with people from the healthcare sector is crucial for several reasons: they will add reliability and trust to your project, they will help you open doors, they could even give you access to potential users, and they can try prototypes and beta versions of your product that allow you to contrast your product decisions against reality. But it’s not only a matter of having them on paper: getting attention from them, and some of their valuable time, will be crucial for your success. Even if you already have them, the main challenge will be: How might you keep them engaged with the project in a way that they can provide valuable insights frequently?
  • Be mindful of compliance: As an initial step for creating trust in the long term, you need to get serious about Security, Privacy, and Quality from scratch. This will impact the infrastructure you need and the initial effort to launch a product, but it will open a lot of doors for the most important moment: getting into the market. In that sense, you need to see it as a competitive advantage you’re investing in. You need to think beyond the opportunities you may lose by not complying and start thinking of compliance as a quality signal. Leading healthcare providers that need to care for their reputation won’t accept anything new that could degrade the quality of their services or damage their brand, and eventually, you will need to integrate with other Health Providers’ tools. There is a clear challenge here: How do you implement the project in a way that is compliant while not creating a significant increase in time-to-market?
  • Integrate with existing tools: One of the main complaints about the Healthcare tech industry is that it’s adding more fragmentation where there is already a lot of atomization. The healthcare industry is a uniquely disconnected ecosystem that consistently fails patients and providers, and adding new pieces to it doesn’t always help. As said in this great article I can’t stop recommending, we need to build bridges. Interoperability will be crucial for your product, and it’s better if you think about it from scratch. This will affect your cost structure as you will need licenses to access existing data, but it will also add distribution channels and help you focus on solving a specific problem while allowing other pieces of software to take care of other problem spaces. The challenge here is to understand your market in a way that helps you build a truly minimal version of your product. Framed as a question: What are the existing tools you need to interact with and how can you use this to reduce the scope of your product?
  • Build trust for the long term: Given how difficult is to implement changes for all players in this field, you have to build trust in order to make your product worth the change in the mid- and long-term. The market will be skeptical, especially on this. For them, you’re just another of those startup projects that come and go. You might feel tempted to convert into an evangelist of Digital Health, but Providers and Pharma companies are already tired of evangelists of half-baked solutions. They don’t want disruption. Ideas like ‘one tool to fix everything’ will cause the contrary effect to what you expect. This won’t be a great way of creating trust. Instead, you need to develop meaningful relationships with entities that are representative of your main users, learn from them, engage with them, and let them do the talking: trust and recognition backed by word of mouth will always look like the long path but it will also pay out. Following a lot of the other challenges presented here will help you with this point too, but the main question here is: How do you build meaningful interactions with existing market players in a way that enables you and your product to earn a long-lasting reputation?
  • There is a full journey behind: Keeping the focus is already hard, and the challenge will get 10x more difficult when you face one of the hardest problems in this sector: the patient context is needed to make decisions. This context is also probably badly documented and siloed out somewhere. There are also huge privacy concerns around it. And all of this interacts with the Health Provider context and preferences. So you need to think in advance: What aspects of the context are relevant to my product? How might we keep the focus while allowing for merging in contextual data? How can we play well with others and ease friction? These need to be sparking questions in the early moments of your product definition, as they could reframe your ideas or turn your focus.
  • It’s a moving target: the digital sector is always a moving target, but in healthcare, you also need to take into account scientific progress, changes to regulation, and shifts in the relationship between patients and health providers. Having constant contact with your advisory board, partners, and potential users is the best way to be updated with what’s changing. What are your strategies for having frequent contact with them in the long term?

Conclusions about these challenges

I was lucky enough to be recently involved in several projects for digital products focused on Health. With Live Chair Health, we learned about societal access gaps and facilitating access to health, which drove us to learn about the relationships between Payers, Inclusive Insurance plans, Health providers, and Retribution while learning about HIPAA compliance and relegated communities. With OncoRX Insights, we learned about Precision Medicine, the subtleties of applying AI to this field, and the complex relationships between Physicians, Patients, Payers, Practices, GPOs, Clinical Trials, Regulations, and Pharma. Also, while helping a company with a focus on Knowledge Management, we got the opportunity to focus on Regulatory Analysts for health companies, which provided a third perspective related to how regulations interact with Pharma companies and Innovations in this space.

In all of them, we faced new discoveries throughout the whole process. From small and subtle UI changes to refinements in the business model, we contributed in ways that were significant for each product. We even helped a customer slightly pivot its product, and we strongly believe this is all related to our Human-Centered Product Design mindset and techniques. Through it, we help digital healthcare companies create products that are more likely to be adopted and used by their target audiences in their existing context, which can ultimately lead to better health outcomes.

As we like challenges, I want to close this article with one that can trigger you to start your own process. In this fragmented, change-averse, and tech-skeptic sector: How could your product idea be merged with habits, processes, and industry forces that already exist?

If you have answers but would like an external POV, drop us a line. We are eager to help.

Stay tuned for the next articles of this series, in which we will comment on some techniques and tools we use for sorting out each of these challenges.