SXSW 2016
Designing Better Healthcare

As is the case in so many other sectors, the majority of healthcare purchases in US households are made by women. Additionally, women are more likely to research products and consult with family and friends. And yet the healthcare industry consistently makes oversights when it comes to meeting the needs of female patients.

According to Lisa Suennen, Managing Partner at Venture Valkyrie, there are plenty of examples of bad design decisions that have been made as a direct result of a lack of feminine perspective, from examination tables that are simply too high, to uncomfortable and intimidating delivery rooms. “We see smart people make bad decisions all the time,” says Amy Cueva, Founder of MadPow.


Walmart VP Marcus Osborne believes that sitting in an ugly waiting room with ten year old magazines is no way to engender trust in the quality of healthcare experience that your patient is going to receive. Look at gyms; just a few years ago, many women were put off the idea of going to a gym by the intimidating-looking equipment and unfriendly atmosphere. Group training, a wider array of classes and a more social element has changed all that, boosting female memberships.

“As consumers, we often don’t feel like we’re in control,” says Osborne, adding: “women value personal control over personal modesty. He is referring to the drop-in appointments made available to women in their stores last year. A lot of companies might have thought that women wouldn’t want to go to a mall for medical care, but the fact is, if it means getting an immediate birth control prescription as opposed to waiting eight months to get an OBGYN appointment, the majority of women are going to be all for it.

It isn’t just a disregard for women’s needs that is hindering the efficacy of modern healthcare products; there are some practical issues too. “The stethoscope hasn’t just not changed over the last few decades, but it’s actually become more dangerous, as it spreads bugs from patient to patient,” says Dr Joseph Habboushe, CEO of Stethos. The simplest and most obvious solution is a disposable alternative, which can be integrated into a bedside monitor and then thrown away, but it took three years of engineering before Habboushe’s team came up with an item that could pick up sound in a hi-fidelity way.


Susannah Fox, CTO of The US Department of Health & Human Services, has worked extensively with the maker community to find more of these solutions. She will tell anyone who comes to see her, both patients and carers, that “somebody, somewhere, has solved this problem.”

Cueva relates many of the problems facing current US healthcare to the three core principles of self-determination theory: people want to feel related to others, people want to feel like successes, and people want to make their own choices. That means encouraging social support and feedback, providing an easy, user-friendly experience, and finally, empowering patients to change their own behaviour in a lasting way, not through gamification or rewards.

“Profit isn’t enough anymore; companies have to clarify their purpose,” says Cueva, who advocates interdependent thinking and a real understanding of what patients value. “Everybody should participate in designing these products,” says Suennen, “because everyone is impacted by these products.”

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