From Digital to DARQ: How Technology is Changing Healthcare

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The UK’s health service, the NHS, is struggling, as are many of the other health services around the world. New health issues are arising from poor diets, a growing elderly population, pollution, climate change and poverty, and all of this is exacerbated by staff shortages and public sector cuts. It may seem bleak, but developments in technology are providing the tools for innovation and for new methods of healthcare provision, and this in turn is shifting the way individuals interact with and take control of their own health. This means that healthcare must now involve a combination of physical care, digital services, self-service and virtual care in order to meet these new demands. In this article, we’ll explore some of the changes we are seeing, and design’s role in the new age of healthcare.


DARQ, Artificial Intelligence and Extended Reality

Demand for health services is at an unprecedented level, and this is forcing the healthcare sector to change dramatically. As providers undergo digital transformations and new startups emerge to plug the gaps, innovation increases and so does opportunity. DARQ (Distributed ledger technology (DLT), artificial intelligence (AI), extended reality (XR) and quantum computing) is a set of technologies which will act as the tools for making services more efficient, and more personalised. They will open up our understanding of illness and how we can streamline processes and react in the most proactive and useful ways. DLT, for example, can allow for a secure and reliable method of payment, identification and verification of information, reducing the time spent on these tasks and freeing up much needed manpower to deal with more important issues.

AI is another technology which is turning heads in almost every sector but is particularly useful for healthcare. Here, AI can be used to trawl through extensive data sets, provide diagnoses based on this data, and then enable a hyper-personalised service for a patient. Not only is this making the entire healthcare system more efficient by taking out the need for a GP or health professional in every interaction so they can focus on tasks which require human input, it also has the opportunity to make the whole consumer experience more affordable, more trusted, and more effective. AI is also unique in the sense that it learns and improves the more it is used, so the opportunity and capability of this technology cannot be underestimated.

XR (extended reality) is also providing a more natural bridge between users and technology, allowing for immersive experiences and ways of interacting with a healthcare service without being physically present. This could be especially useful for individuals who are unable to get to a physical healthcare facility due to geographic, physical or scheduling problems.


The Power of Data

The use of data, and the power this data wields, is also a key tool for providers to analyse and then react to, allowing them to create increasingly personalised and improved services. Personalisation is now more important than ever for end users and is a powerful tool in delivering the most effective and efficient service. Data ecosystems are allowing for healthcare providers to draw in different data sets and build up identities for people, allowing them to create long-term relationships with their users, as opposed to countless disjointed interactions. Once these connections and emotional relationships are formed, key drivers of adoption, such as trust, become far easier to achieve.

Consumers now expect healthcare on their own terms, and data is the root from which this can be possible. Data is also essential in order for technologies like AI to work, and given the sheer volume of data points that are generated in relation to health and healthcare provision, being able to harness this data and feed into AI systems is of paramount importance. For example, when it comes to diagnosis, data is able to provide us with patterns that allow us to predict when an intervention is required, or if there is a likely chance that a certain type of individual is prone to a specific illness. This can mean that emergency situations are likely to be caught before they develop, thus alleviating pressure on A&E departments and GP surgeries – this is particularly appropriate for dealing with mental healthcare.

Data helps to optimise and refine, and enables a service to exceed its normal capabilities. With all this said, it is almost equally important that providers understand the line between personalised and intrusive services. Data privacy is a buzz phrase at the moment, and people’s awareness of how their data is being collected and used is only growing. Healthcare brands must be clear and transparent on how they are collecting and utilising their users’ data, or they risk breaking the relationships and trust that allow them to provide the service in the first place.


Digitised Healthcare

For both DARQ technologies and data to work in an optimised way, digital products must be developed to a high standard, with consumers expecting digital to be the enabler when it comes to them having the kinds of access to services that they require. Consumers are now far more aware of their own health needs and, as mentioned before, they expect healthcare to be provided on their own terms, in a convenient and transparent way. Digital applications, particularly through mobile phones, will be one of the most prominent ways in which users will interact with their health and healthcare provider. Digitised healthcare is disrupting many of the traditional healthcare services, opening up accessibility for those living in remote locations, integrating with modern life through smartphones, tablets and computers, and providing users with the ability to access healthcare whenever and wherever is most convenient for them. If the potential of these emerging technologies is to be fully realised, a considered approach to digital application and UI design must be sought, as again this will be key in driving adoption.


The Role of Brand

When it comes to finding and owning a space in the market, providers must develop their brands in order to attract, delight and retain their users. Brand and design have played a significant role already in bringing these digital disruptors successfully to market, with a particular focus on UI design and tone of voice setting them apart from traditional incumbents. For example, digital healthcare has generally changed the focus of messaging, pivoting away from the illness or ailment, and championing the cure or the positive effects at the forefront of their product or service. This can be key in changing public perception of your service, and healthcare in general.

For healthcare startups or scaleups, issues around trust are hard to overcome given their lack of brand equity and the personal nature of their service. Brand and design can evoke influence and trust for these startups through their brand identity and tone of voice. Creating an identity which feels trusted not only helps with the end users but also with possible partnerships. Partnering with a beloved and trusted institution, such as the NHS or well-known patient group, could be a fast track to consumer trust and brand equity, with the stamp of approval working much like it does in other industries such as finance (think of the FCA seal of approval). Brand is the way in which providers connect with and create a buy-in for users, a reason for choosing them over someone else (more alike to a privatised system) or simply to ensure adoption and avoid the issues that a lack of adoption can cause further down the line.

As discussed already, providing a consistent experience and journey, and ensuring your brand’s vision and personality are delivered across every touch point is vital, and this is possible through a considered approach to brand and design. For incumbents who are still undergoing digital transformations, they need to look inward first and consider who they are, their vision and what their purpose for existing is. Once this is clear they must use design to translate this into digital and online application, ensuring external and internal cohesion.


What’s Next?

So, healthcare is changing rapidly, probably faster than it ever has before. Brands and institutions are having to react constantly and at pace in order to stay ahead of the curve. New technologies and the digital disruptors who are harnessing them are bringing much promise, ushering in new ways that the public can interact with and take control of their personal health. Brands like Babylon Health, Fitbit and our recent client, Natia, are all exploring new ways of communicating and integrating with consumer’s lives, clarifying their vision and personality through an emphasis on design, shaking up what it means to be a healthcare brand in the 21st century. Incumbents and traditional institutional providers must continue to keep up, taking inspiration and guidance from the new generation of healthcare providers, and ensuring they are able to translate their values and visions into high quality online and digital experiences. Brands must be built with the customer in mind, carefully considering the journey they are taken on and the experience they are being provided. It’s exciting times within the healthcare space which, as long as aspects such as widespread accessibility are improved and a respect for personal data and privacy is maintained, could empower generations to come and open up a new realm of possibility for human health.