February 15, 2022 Behavioral Design: The Secret to Better Digital Therapeutics When it comes to designing digital therapeutic products that deliver on their promise to better people’s lives, we turn to behavioral design. Denny Royal Chief Design Officer Digital therapeutic companies create every app, prescription, and healthcare intervention with the best of intentions: to help the patient/consumer to live the healthiest life that they can. However, many of these efforts fall flat. Why? They don’t take a behavioral design to their work. Ultimately, the success or failure of a product comes down to one thing: human behavior. We’re complex beings. We see the world through lived experiences that make us behave the way that we do. And no two lived experiences are the same. In the healthcare space, we understand the impact that behavior has on outcomes. The World Health Organization (WHO) states, “the major causes of chronic diseases are known, and if these risk factors were eliminated, at least 80% of all heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes would be prevented; over 40% of cancer would be prevented.” The causes referred to are behavioral and unfortunately continue to increase. And yet we design many of our healthcare interventions the way we always have — for what we would like patients to do rather than what they will do. While design has advanced due to methods like human-centered design, there’s still something missing. We understand the user and their unmet needs in greater detail than we ever have. But why do they do what they do? Why does one patient adhere to their prescription schedule but another doesn’t? Again, the short answer is human behavior. Driving better health outcomes requires a holistic understanding of a patient’s health including the factors that shape their behavior. Through the use of data and technology, we’re at a point where we can deliver much more precise care. But there’s also an opportunity to deliver more personalized care that results in increased engagement and better outcomes. Here at MentorMate, we approach these types of interventions by layering a behavioral design layer into the design process. This approach allows us to understand how patients are most likely to behave, the right behavioral targets to look at, and the best way to design for them. Our approach to behavioral design in healthcare Our behavioral design approach combines the best practices from the human-centered design world with the most up-to-date neuroscience, behavior science, and behavioral economics thinking. These fields are the most rapidly growing and developing fields in healthcare today. As we learn more about the human brain, science changes constantly. What was accurate six months ago may not be today. And so this approach is one of constant diligence and exploration to remain current in our understanding and ability to apply it to a problem. Understand the patient situation This approach depends on a deep understanding of the patient, their understanding of their bigger health view, and how much control they feel that they have over it. We also have to help the patient be more realistic about their behavior since human tendency is to overestimate our abilities in almost all aspects of our lives. We don’t only study the patients who struggle with a particular behavior though. We also seek to understand what the patients who have successfully adopted the target behavior are doing as well. That knowledge arms us with possible behavioral targets and interventions to help improve the behaviors of those who are struggling. These interventions can then be tested to see if there is a positive impact on patient behavior. When it comes to patient behavior, it’s critical to understand that none of us are exactly alike. Our behaviors are based on our lived experiences which are different for everyone. In order to be successful, we need more personalized interventions. Technology allows us to do that. But there’s another critical component to our approach — iteration. It’s unfortunately all too common for digital therapeutic companies to try and create one size fits all solutions that patients then must grind through and adhere to even if it isn’t working for them. Those solutions don’t really solve anything. Instead, they lead to disengagement and feelings of failure in the patient’s mind. To combat those failed solutions, we instead must move to design systems that are more adaptable to the patient’s behavior. They should allow for and encourage iteration on the patient’s part in order to get to something that works for them. Identify the targets or interventions we want to impact Ok, we have a deep understanding of the patients’ mindsets and we defined the purpose of the digital therapeutic or intervention. Now what? At this point, we start to think through the behavioral targets within the system. Based on foundational research and primary literature, behavioral targets are where we believe we can impact and shift patient behavior toward the desired care outcome. An understanding of context here is critical. What is happening in the digital system the patient engages with? What about in the broader ecosystem of care? What’s happening with this individual? When we have answers to these questions, we can begin to design the right solution to impact the desired patient behavior. We then go through the normal UX design processes of testing and iteration but these targets always act as our guide and problem statement. Behavioral design in healthcare is a space of compassion. Empathy isn’t enough. “Human behavior is the final common pathway for the application of nearly every advance in medicine.” —Mitesh Patel, M.D., Director, Penn Medicine Nudge Unit There are a couple of things we always need to keep in mind whenever we conduct behavioral design work in the healthcare space. Our every day is often the patient’s worst day. For that reason, empathy isn’t enough. Merely walking in someone’s proverbial shoes doesn’t adequately explain how they’re going to behave. Healthcare decisions are fraught with emotion — around care, around costs, and around the ability to adopt a new behavior. These things weigh heavy on the patient’s mindset and undoubtedly impact behavior. So as designers, we need to carefully consider every interaction and every word on the screen and design these with a compassionate mindset. Behavioral design is the secret ingredient to shipping successful digital therapeutics When considering whether to embark on a behavioral design journey with your digital therapeutic think about this: the more we understand about the patient, the better we can serve them. And better serving them ultimately leads to better outcomes. Understanding what they are going to do and why they’re going to do it has a huge impact on the design of the intervention. It leads to more personalization, higher engagement, and better outcomes for the patient. We all want to help people live healthier lives through the digital products we design. Behavioral design is one of the key pieces to do exactly that. Tags DesignBehavior Design Share Share on Facebook Share on LinkedIn Share on Twitter Fulfilling Users’ Needs Adopt a design thinking mindset and ship digital products that win. Download Share Share on Facebook Share on LinkedIn Share on Twitter Sign up for our monthly newsletter. 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