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Digital Health Innovation: From pilot to scale

Kelsey Nash | March, 2024

Digital health solutions have evolved rapidly over the years since COVID-19 pandemic. Advancements in Generative AI are increasingly creating new opportunities. We’ve many startups aiming to streamline administrative tasks, and make it easier for clinicians to access information efficiently. In our recent webinar, our panel explored the importance of co-creation in digital health, involving both clinicians and patients. The discussion focused on how this collaborative approach is pivotal in scaling up digital health innovations effectively.

One of our lead designers, Diana, kicked off the session by emphasising the importance of collaborative co-creation in the digital health landscape. She highlighted the vital role of user engagement in development of solutions that improve healthcare outcomes.


Case Study: SH:24

Laura, another of Unboxed’s lead designers, presented a case study on SH:24, a pioneering digital sexual health service. SH:24's mission is to enhance access to and the quality of sexual and reproductive health services in the UK. The service offers holistic sexual health care, including STI testing, treatment, contraception, and clinical support, all accessible from the comfort of one's home.

Laura outlined how SH:24 prioritised user-centred design from the outset, involving users in the co-creation process. Through extensive user research and prototyping, SH:24 developed a service tailored to the needs of its diverse user base. This approach facilitated rapid adoption and scalability, with SH:24 now serving populations not only in the UK but also in Ireland and internationally.

"The thing is, most people who were going to clinic didn’t need treatment because they didn't have an infection. But they do need to do a test to find that out. The basic hypothesis was that at home testing could reduce the number of people needing to go into clinic. Anyone who tested negative would be removed from the queue."

Panel Discussion: Why clinical and patient involvement matters

Following the case study, Mollie Courtenay, Head of Product at SH:24, and Martyn Evans, Director at Unboxed, shared insights from their experience of involving clinicians and patients in digital health innovation processes.

Mollie emphasised the importance of continued interdisciplinary co-creation, highlighting how integrating clinicians and patients at every stage ensures usability and addresses real world needs. She talked about how, 10 years ago, their research with users very clearly showed that users did not want to access their service through an online account. They focused on making the service really easy to use without the need for a login and relying on SMS for simple communication.

But 10 years on, service users have a whole different set of expectations about how they interact with online services. Now, they want an account - and so do the commissioners of the service. This means SH:24 needed to pivot its product strategy to offer the same seamless experience but with the option for a useful and accessible account. If they hadn’t continued to involve their users in service development, they would no longer be meeting the needs and expectations of those users.

“we've built our service and our customer service culture completely around SMS being the primary communication tool - we’ve had to make a strategic shift away from that.”

Martyn discussed the benefits of engaging clinicians and patients in a meaningful way.

“One of the things we'd like to do a lot more of with patients is giving them more of a sense of ownership of the design process rather than just be the subjects of research and testing to get them actually involvement. We've run design workshops with patients and clinicians in the same room, which is really valuable.

"We think it's really important for clinicians to hear firsthand what patients have got to say. There's a sense amongst clinicians that they've spent a lot of time with patients one-to-one in the consultation room, but we find that by just taking them out about consultation room and having a conversation in the waiting room, it gives them a very different perspective on that patient, and what else is happening in their lives rather than just the details of the condition.”

Mollie emphasised the need to balance expert clinical knowledge with a focus on better patient experience.

“We need to strike an appropriate balance between automation and autonomy of those medical professionals. When expert knowledge is required in order to make a medically sound decision versus when could we lean more into the technology to be able to safely progress orders without clinical input and therefore look at automation and more efficient ways to deliver services to the user.”

Sustaining involvement at scale

We went on to consider the challenges of sustaining clinician and patient involvement as digital health solutions scale. Martyn highlighted the significant challenge of getting continued access to busy clinicians once a service has been launched.

“Clinical involvement in service development had a huge impact on the success of the service and in establishing the service. But now that there’s no ‘project’ running it's much harder to get the time of clinicians to step back and think about how we might improve the service. So it can be hard to scale and improve the service once it’s live, but the initial involvement in the project is really powerful.”

He shared strategies that have worked for Unboxed in the past, including organising workshops and embedding designers within healthcare settings to observe workflows and gather feedback continually.

What was summarised

In conclusion, the panel emphasised the critical role of collaborative co-creation in the success of digital health innovations. By involving clinicians and patients from the inception stage, companies can ensure solutions are tailored to what users actually need, leading to greater acceptance and scalability. Fostering ongoing engagement and addressing barriers to involvement will be crucial in driving further advancements and adoption of a solution.

As we navigate the landscape of digital health solutions, let's reflect on the challenges and opportunities discussed today:

  • How can we creatively address the time constraints faced by clinicians while ensuring their active engagement?
  • In what ways can we empower patients to have a deeper sense of ownership in the design process?
  • As digital health solutions scale, how do we sustain adaptability and prioritise the diverse needs of users?

We’re keen to continue this conversation with healthcare stakeholders—healthcare professionals, decision-makers, product managers, and users—to continue this conversation.. If you're interested in participating in ongoing discussions, please feel free to reach out to any of us from today's panel.


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