Doing Less For More

Healthcare organizations can influence patient outcomes faster and more effectively with digital tools that are simple, singular and user-centric.

David, a 47-year-old Navy veteran, hadn’t seen a doctor in eight years. He’d been in and out of homelessness, making minimum wage, when he sparked inspiration for the U.S. Digital Service at Veteran Affairs, an organization tasked with delivering better government services through technology and design.

David had unsuccessfully applied for VA healthcare dozens of times through a process that was confusing, frustrating, and inefficient. At the time, only 10 percent of Veterans were applying for healthcare benefits online, primarily due to one very powerful glitch: the online application didn’t open for over 70 percent of users due to the browser requirements of the PDF application form.[1]

So the U.S. Digital Service at VA set out to fix it, digitally. They established a user-centric, laser focus, and tackled one singular and simple task: make the online application process easy and effective. They built an app iteratively, validating their work early and often with Veterans through usability research. The resulting app, which launched in July 2016, allows David, and Veterans like him, to easily apply for healthcare anytime, anywhere, from any device.

The key to their success was simple: they started small, and put users first.

For healthcare organizations the temptation to do otherwise is powered by the great promise of a holistic, fully integrated digital ecosystem that would fuel open innovation, enable more efficient care, and serve as a barrier-free healthcare delivery platform.

The question is not if healthcare providers should develop digital solutions (they already are at an increasingly accelerated rate, with application development projected to jump 56 percent in 2017, up to 14 apps per year for US healthcare organizations[2]) but how.

We believe the answer to “how” for the healthcare industry is this: start small, and put users first. While a holistic, fully integrated digital ecosystem is an admirable and realistic end goal, healthcare providers and consumers would benefit now from smaller, simpler, single-use digital tools that can be developed iteratively, with limited data requirements, and maintained for very little cost.

Start with the “job to be done.”

The “jobs to be done” theory has been credited for many new product innovations, and its principles of gathering and applying customer insights should be the foundation for the development of healthcare applications.

To do it right, “jobs to be done” requires healthcare providers to look beyond the standard customer insights. It asks developers to look at the jobs healthcare consumers are trying to get done, as well as the contextual factors that make some jobs more or less important. Gaining a deeper understanding of a consumer’s life, especially in the healthcare market, reveals more paths to innovation.

And those paths may not always lead to an app. Simple tools healthcare consumers are already using, such as text messaging and voicemail, may be as impactful as an expensive app in patient outcomes. And because they often require less data, these simple tools can be decoupled from the larger architecture, allowing for greater personalization than data-rich apps burdened with restrictions and regulations.

If a “jobs to be done” analysis reveals that an app is the answer, start by solving for simple, singular tasks.

Application development is the right answer in many cases, but don’t get stalled by efforts to create a perfect, one-stop-shop application. Healthcare providers have much to gain in terms of efficiencies and patient outcomes by developing digital tools now for simple, singular tasks. These tasks – everything from finding a doctor or re-ordering prescriptions – can be accomplished in isolation from the bigger data system, making the digital apps that deliver them faster, simpler and cheaper to develop.

In healthcare, doing less digitally may deliver more: more personalized experiences that concentrate less on transactional perfection and more on affecting outcomes and fostering the patient/provider relationship. Applying the “jobs to be done” framework allows healthcare organizations to put users at the strategic core of digital product development, for solutions that are transformative in their simplicity and ease of use.

[1] “Introducing a new digital application for health care at VA,” U.S. Digital Service at Veterans Affairs, July 1, 2016
[2] RedHat Enterprise Mobility Survey, Nov. 10, 2016

This article was co-authored by:

paul-weltyPaul is a Senior Technology Director with more than 20 years of experience in leading organizations and solutions in web, mobile, print, strategy, marketing, branding, and technology—from sales to strategy to execution.

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