Including patients in digital health design: Two startups share how they’ve done it

During a Stanford MedX Live panel on healthcare entrepreneurship Tuesday night, someone on Twitter posed an important question: How can we better incorporate the patient’s voice into the development of healthcare IT? Adrian James is co-founder of Omada Health, a venture-backed digital health company that designed a 16-week diabetes prevention program to help at-risk people […]

During a Stanford MedX Live panel on healthcare entrepreneurship Tuesday night, someone on Twitter posed an important question: How can we better incorporate the patient’s voice into the development of healthcare IT?

Adrian James is co-founder of Omada Health, a venture-backed digital health company that designed a 16-week diabetes prevention program to help at-risk people develop healthier habits through social support, data tracking, personalized coaching and structured learning. It’s based on the Diabetes Prevention Program, which was tested in a 3,200-subject study and demonstrated that people with pre-diabetes could cut their risk of disease progression by losing weight through exercise and diet changes.

The former designer at IDEO explained that one of the first steps in creating Omada Health was getting user feedback, even before there was a product.

We literally went out with a single printed piece of paper – it was this concept that we might be able to match people with pre-diabetes into small groups and usher them, in a virtual setting, through this clinical trial,” he said.

“We’d walk with people through their homes, we’d hear their story, and then we’d put this concept in their hands and just let them tell us about what it was.”

The difficult part, then, was synthesizing all of their perspectives to build the best product possible. James said the first version of the product was built and tested on Yammer. By telling participants that the project was in the earliest of stages and their voice was going to make a difference, the team was able to get good feedback from those first users.

Incorporating user feedback has gotten harder now that the company is bigger, he said, but the team still makes a point to bake that into its process.

“Some of it’s surveys, which are good but obviously impersonal,” he said. “We still pull people into our office on a fairly regular basis and just have them speak with us and suggest features and feedback as they go through the program.” In a follow-up comment on Twitter, he added that patients who share that kind of feedback were usually given an honorarium of $50 to $100.

Dr. Jordan Shlain, founder of HealthLoop, became an entrepreneur because of the frustration he felt with patient-physician communications in between visits. HealthLoop is a cloud-based platform that automates routine follow-up care and pinpoints at-risk patients who need the most attention.

As someone who dealt with those challenges every day, Shlain had some insight on the end users’ perspectives by default. But like James, he said his company also makes a continued effort to build a mechanism of getting user feedback into the solution. “We not only ask the patients how they’re doing, but how we’re doing – both HealthLoop and the doctor,” he explained. “We actively built that into the feedback loop, (to ask them to) tell us what you like and tell us how to do better.”

As important as user feedback is, James cautioned not to forget the customers, either. “Remember to focus on the end-user, of course, because you need them to love what you’re doing, but don’t fool yourself that you’re not going to be selling mainly into the enterprise system,” he said. “Focus on the weak points in the current B2B dynamics that need your help as well.”