Design research in healthcare

Frances Brown 

A person in a green surgical scrub wearing facemask, goggles and gloves enters information on the PC in a hospital.

Photo by Irwan iwe on Unsplash

Over the past six years, the Nightingale team has worked with the NHS and healthcare startups to provide the design research needed to implement successful digital innovation. Using a range of methods, including interviews, focus groups and user testing, we’ve researched:

  • Ways in which technology can support NHS staff to find and attend events that will advance their training and career
  • The needs and experiences of doctors and training providers around the delivery of remote postgraduate medical training
  • The experiences and training needs of primary care staff around delivering remote triage and consultations 
  • How patients and staff engage with and understand a new NHS App feature that allows patients to share their data.

We delved into the experiences of a very wide range of patients and healthcare staff, to understand their roles and needs and how technology can support them. We then translated the insights from this research into clear, evidence-based recommendations on how to design and shape technology that genuinely fits the needs of users and the healthcare system as a whole.

The complexities of the healthcare context

Healthcare involves a wide range of stakeholders with different goals, needs and opinions - patients, clinicians, support staff, managers, budget holders, policy makers and politicians will all have different viewpoints and priorities in any given situation. The particular context in which a product or service operates - primary care, secondary care, surgery, oncology  - will also have a large bearing on what is and isn't likely to work. The fact that a high level of safety and security is also required means that developing and implementing new products and services for healthcare - particularly ones that are innovative or involve significant change - is not a simple process. This is especially true for technology - an estimated 80% of attempts to introduce innovative healthcare technology fail.

The role of design research in healthcare

The goal of design research is to ensure that any decisions made around the design, development and implementation of a product or service are made based on evidence rather than guesswork and assumptions. Design research de-risks innovation in healthcare by taking into account the needs of all stakeholders and the specific requirement of the context, ensuring that the full impact of any change - on stakeholders, on outcomes, on the environment and on safety - is understood and planned for in advance. This approach greatly increases the likelihood that any innovation will be adopted and accepted and any changes required will be implemented smoothly and successfully. 

Design research should be carried out as early as possible in a project, before any solution, product or service is developed. It should continue throughout the project, informing all key decisions, from the type of product or service required, to the look and feel of the finished solution. 

Planning and carrying out research

One of the key elements of implementing successful innovation in healthcare is having a strong business case for change - without a business case, it is unlikely that any change will be funded or adopted. We've worked extensively with the NHS to build business cases for new products and services and using that experience we've created a business case template and guidebook that allows you to systematically identify the evidence and research you need in order to develop a successful product or service for healthcare. Working through the template will help you pinpoint what you do and don't know and raise the key questions that need to be answered using design research.

Nightingale's Design Research in Healthcare resources

Watch our webinar: Delivering successful digital innovation in healthcare. You'll find out how to engage with the sector, mistakes to avoid, and practical advice on how to use our free business case template to build a strong foundation for your product.

Read our blog: Building a business case for digital innovation in healthcare. You'll find out why you need a business case and how to get started.

Download our free business case template and guidebook. You'll get practical guidance to help you build your business case. The guidebook prompts you to consider all the crucial factors you need to build your business case. 

Get some advice: get in touch. We'd love to talk through your project and advise how design research can support your healthcare product or service.