At last night's Essential Threads: Linking Healthcare, Technology, and Design, DMB co-founder Sam and I listened to a few presentations by some entrepreneurs and businessmen involved in healthcare experience design. The event was hosted by Essential, a design consultancy here in Boston. What struck me was the importance of information design in all four men's projects. Much of the focus of companies like PatientsLikeMe and WellDoc has to do with disseminating information--whether it's educating patients about their disease or providing data about patients to their doctors. The success of these programs will depend on how usable their interfaces are and whether patients and doctors alike can make sense of the immense amounts of data they are able to collect.
John Moore's presentation included a chilling example of data visualization used to cajole AIDS patients into taking their medication. Drug compliance rates among AIDS patients are surprisingly low, given the seriousness of the disease, and research has shown that reminder systems (like SMS messages) don't inspire patients to take their medications. Dr. Moore, a student at the MIT Media Lab, showed a cell phone app that showed an animation of a patient's blood cells, updated automatically with the patient's latest tests showing the proportion of white blood cells to the AIDS virus in his or her body. If the patient doesn't take his or her medication, the virus begins to eat away at the white blood cells in the animation. (See photo above of Moore demonstrating the app.) According to Moore, seeing this visual reminder of the virus and the effect the medicine has in keeping the virus at bay resulted in higher drug compliance rates.
PatientsLikeMe's service for its users is largely made up of infographics, created from data provided by other users. A patient with a specific disease can look at infographics showing medical records data from other patients in his or her demographic. With a poorly designed interface or confusing graphics, patients would have trouble making sense of the wealth of data available on the site.
Though the presentations focused largely on the business models and technological research behind the products, the importance of not only collecting data but displaying it in a way that doctors and patients alike can interpret without effort was clear. I'd be curious to know if the companies and projects presented last night follow the teachings of data visualization gurus like Edward Tufte, or if they've developed their own philosophies on information design.