5 things to know for your first Healthcare Design Job

Words by: Izac Ross

Whether you’ve landed your first job or are just interested in learning more about the space, you may have a lot of questions about how design in healthcare is different from other industries. In my time working as a designer in healthcare, I've learned a lot about how to be successful in this industry. Here are a few things I wish I’d known when I started out:

Know the ecosystem so you can find the levers to pull

Healthcare is incredibly complex; it’s a system of providers, corporations, payers (insurance companies, employers, Medicare, Medicaid, etc), and government regulation. Ignoring this will get you into more trouble than the work is worth. Here’s a list of great books that will help you get oriented to this complex ecosystem. For instance, Modern Health and other mental healthcare start-ups in the US realized that employee assistance programs (EAPs) were an expense that wasn’t returning high value for money. They marketed themselves as EAP replacements that would lead to better mental health outcomes for employees, and they’ve flourished in the employer self-funded insurance market.

Follow the money to create change

Look for opportunities where incentives can align between your company, healthcare payers, and care delivery. In US healthcare, money talks. We at Hinge Health had a core insight that dollars spent on muskuloskeletal (MSK) care are not producing better outcomes. Health plans, especially high-deductible ones, end up spending a lot on MSK conditions because patients delay care till they’re so bad off they end up in the ER or a surgeon’s office, two of the worst places to get MSK care. By contrast, Hinge Health offers pay-for-value care at $0 for patients to access MSK care. This enables patients to seek care before pain gets out of control, leading to better outcomes and fewer dollars spent per patient. Hinge Health services have a 150% return on investment. 

Innovation and disruption is a game of 5% better

In an industry that spends 19.7% of US GDP, 1% savings is billions of dollars. Radical disruption is the business of public policy, not private business. The goal of even the most innovative in the industry is 1% to 10% better in cost, outcomes, or experience. You can read more about this philosophy at onepercentsteps.com.

Golden paths represent 50% or fewer of your users

Unlike in the design of consumer products, where you can count on things going right 90%+ of the time, exceptions are the rule in healthcare. Healthcare is deeply personal, with many intersectionalities of conditions, social determinants of health, variations of insurance, financial situations, and health literacy. 

User research is different, but don’t be intimidated—and get to know your compliance and legal teams

In healthcare, user research requires a lot more care when it comes to handling recruiting data and research data. Recruiting must be via secure means, and data must be stored in a restricted way. The pertinent regulations fall under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Do yourself a favor and get to know your privacy, compliance, and legal teams. Have some fun taking them out for a drink. Investing in these relationships will make your life much easier and remove barriers for you and your team. 

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