Tunnah’s musings: Designing a new future for healthcare


After taking part in the 10th Frontiers of Interaction event in Milan, Paul Tunnah muses on some of the more creative design, technology and user experience innovation coming to healthcare and how it will shape the future of health and wellness.

For anyone that reads my musings on a regular basis and appreciates the vision of pharmaphorum, you will know that I think the best events in pharma and healthcare bring together all kinds of stakeholders – commercial companies, healthcare providers and patients. But the ones that stimulate me the most go even further, involving experts from other sectors who bring fresh insights into our medical world.

The Frontiers of Interaction event in Milan, now in its 10th iteration, had therefore set itself up to meet my high expectations by being billed as 'the meeting point of design, technology and everything interactive'. But it certainly managed to live up to them. With a focus on technology designed to enhance customer experience across finance, retail and healthcare, it brought together entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, academics and investors to share their stories.


"Pharma and device companies have to start thinking, and behaving, more like user-centred design companies"



Aside from the chance to meet lots of cool folks with great ideas, take part in a panel discussion on disrupting healthcare and enjoy some fabulous Italian hospitality, the event stimulated the following three thoughts.

Healthcare is already witnessing disruption

In my last musings I wrote about where the Uber for pharma will come from. While the mega disruption that Uber brought to taxis might not be here yet for healthcare, there are plenty of smaller-scale examples showing it's already happening.

Take Tinnitracks for example, which has brought to market a novel solution for tinnitus that uses no pills and no devices other than your smartphone. This software solution taps into your own online music library to filter out specific frequencies and use the filtered output tunes to help manage a disease that is otherwise poorly controlled. In case you missed it, in September it became the first medical app to secure reimbursement from the largest statutory health insurance company in Germany, no doubt paving the way for others.

Disruption is also coming in the form of software solutions designed to help patients manage their conditions alongside medication, such as the app One Drop for diabetes patients. Designed by the former cofounder of a digital marketing agency who was diagnosed late in life as a T1 diabetic, the kind of neat user interface and peer-to-peer interactivity features have clearly been driven by co-creating it with significant patient input.

It shows that 'traditional' pharma and device companies have to start thinking, and behaving, more like user-centred design companies to keep up.

Good products are never finished

Continuing the theme of apps, the Facebook app was referenced as being unique in one aspect compared to others – updates are released for it every two weeks like clockwork. Whether these updates are minor tweaks or more major overhauls, it demonstrates the principle that good technology products are never finished, but are constantly being developed to improve user experience.


"Good technology products are never finished, but are constantly being developed to improve user experience"

This kind of philosophy has to be applied to digital healthcare interventions and the trick is finding the right balance between getting on to the market early to secure valuable user feedback and developing sufficient attributes to make it a viable and attractive product. Videum, a novel compliant and interactive platform for healthcare videos is a good example of this balance. The ability to manage and monitor exactly how viewers are engaging with videos, translate to multiple languages and build in interactivity in the form of scheduled links and documents is pretty cool...but there will be more to come no doubt.

But the philosophy of good products never being finished also applies to being creative in enhancing existing products with digital innovation. Take Moleskine, for example, which is moving beyond its traditional notebook heritage in partnering with Adobe to link paper and screen. Incidentally, the driving force here is the man who helped Lego become a digital brand, so watch this space.

The lesson – to deliver great user experience you must think like a software company and be perpetually beta, no matter what your product.

It's about how it makes you feel

Speaking of great user experience, it's also good to remind ourselves that a key part of this is how a product makes you feel. This might seem a little abstract in the world of medicine, where it's surely about the clinical aspects of tackling your disease rather than an emotional response, but many patients would disagree – the feeling they want is not to be constantly reminded of their illness. It's hard to make pills cool, but health technology can be and, as medical interventions become a blend of devices, diagnostics, medicines and applications, there are more lessons to be learned from elsewhere.


"Design Executive Officers (DEOs) are always seeking new ways to make us feel better about a brand"



From using rock music to teach leadership skills (yes - that really was on show in Milan!) to talking about the internet of everything as the much-better-sounding 'enchanted objects', Design Executive Officers (DEOs) are always seeking new ways to enhance user experience and make us feel better about a brand.

But perhaps few do it so well as John Lewis with their Christmas campaigns and the creativity that sits behind them, as their Head of Innovation elaborated. To witness how they built a 360-degree camera booth to bring children's favourite toys to life as animations was as fascinating as their ever-spectacular Christmas adverts are emotive.

So if department stores, software companies and notebook sellers can use technology and design for positive disruption, there's no excuse for those of us working in healthcare.

Until next month, be creative, keep disrupting and stay well.

With special thanks to Healthware International for the invitation to take part in the 2015 Frontiers event.

About the author:

Paul Tunnah is CEO & Founder of pharmaphorum media, which drives better communication and collaboration between the pharmaceutical industry and other healthcare stakeholders. Today, the group encompasses both the digital thought leadership publication, www.pharmaphorum.com, and pharmaphorum connect, the trusted healthcare media consultancy, which helps clients tell a clear, engaging story that connects with the right audiences and influencers using pharmaphorum's global healthcare networks. Dr Tunnah holds an MA in Biochemistry and DPhil in Biological Sciences from Oxford University.

For queries he can be reached through the site contact form or on Twitter @pharmaphorum.

Have your say: What is the role for innovative design in healthcare?

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Linda Banks

19 November, 2015