Nurse attending to a patient lying in a hospital bed

Digital Nurse’s Assistant

and the era of patient-empowered healthcare

The Challenge

Each year, millions find themselves in a hospital room. During that time, they may be confined to bed, have limited mobility, or experience movement-related pain. Moreover, a hospital stay can feel socially isolating and anxiety inducing, as the patient has little control over his/her environment and situation.  
A recent study published in the Journal of Health Environments Research and Design finds the level of control patients feel they have can affect how quickly they heal—and that has ripple effects beyond the patient. It affects the strain on loved ones, the cost of care for providers and insurers, the amount of time and energy doctors and nurses can allocate to individual patients, and more. The intersection of wellness and technology is something that we’ve been passionate about for some time, and the rapidly growing ubiquity of voice-based and AI-powered devices fueled our desire to explore how technology could be used to drastically improve the experience for patients, and staff, in a hospital setting.
Venn diagram of the intersection of Friends & Family, Patient, Insurance Providers, Caregivers, and Voice Based AI and Devices

“When we’re sick and feeling vulnerable, it’s especially important to feel in control of our surroundings… Each change [ to the hospital experience ] can improve the patient and family experience by reducing unnecessary stress and anxiety and enhancing the healing process.”

Dr. Emily Patterson, Ph.D. Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center
The Approach
We’ve always believed that designing for people with temporary or permanent impairments results in digital experiences that benefit people universally—an inclusive design approach. Focusing first on the hospital patient—specifically those with moderate to severe mobility limitations—helped us quickly align on a value proposition around specific needs and pain-points. The healthcare experience revolves around patients and their needs, but it extends beyond the hospital ward and involves many people in addition to the patient.  Introducing voice-based and AI-powered devices to patients means we can also introduce them to hospital staff, loved ones, care advocates, and insurance providers. Patient vitals could be shared securely with hospital staff, communication between patients and those charged with their care could be streamlined, and simple tasks could be augmented or automated to save time, energy and money.
We tasked ourselves with crafting a proof of concept that demonstrated how voice-based UI (such as Alexa, Siri, Cortana and Google Voice Assistant) can serve as a meaningful control point for, and contributor to, smoothing the in-patient care experience, reducing the cost of care for providers and insurers, and improving communication between patients and loved ones. As we progressed through the various aspects of the proof-of-concept, we generated many questions which we are still actively working to answer, such as:
  • In what ways can AI help improve the healthcare system?
  • How do we effectively address human’s inherent suspicion regarding “machines that listen, speak and think”?
  • How can AI help doctors, nurses and caregivers perform their jobs at higher effectiveness?
  • How effective can AI be in helping reduce cognitive load, reduce staff stress and fatigue, reduce accidents, and increase overall patient wellness?
  • Other than short-term care, like hospitals, could an AI be introduced to long-term care, such as nursing homes or assisted living spaces, and how could AI help people stay in their own homes longer?
We also discussed how best to present the proof of concept—not really feeling inspired by cranking out yet another slideshow. The interactive nature of the story we were crafting demanded something more. Then someone said the word “diorama” and everyone went into overdrive.

We believe that the marriage of inclusive design and connected smart devices has the power to significantly improve the quality and efficiency of patient care.

It’s Only a Model
Starting with what was readily available around the studio and what folks had brought in from home, we divided into three strike-teams—Story, Tech, and Build—and were able to rough out a scale-model hospital room in diorama form in which we could ask the voice-agent (Alexa in this case) to raise or lower the angle of the bed, turn the room lights on or off, or page a nurse.
As we worked, we continually revisited our core premise—the marriage of inclusive design and connected smart devices has the power to significantly improve the quality and efficiency of patient care—to maintain our focus on what capabilities this diorama would contain and what values it would highlight: a patient’s control over their comfort, quality of their care, and connection to their loved ones. We also identified opportunities for empowerment and efficiency with hospital staff, addressing the needs and pains of our understaffed and overworked nurses.
Relatively simple proofs of concept like this allow us to experiment with the potential impacts in both learning and working environments. It enables, like never before, a new learning paradigm for professionals in complex industries, restructures team dynamics, and allows for people to take a giant leap forward in their ability to learn, test, and innovate on ideas, with little to no physical barriers or limitations.

The evolutionary speed of AI will depend on the pace of acceptance amongst humans. Voice-based UI is the next logical step in the evolution of fully functional, human-interacted artificial intelligences.

The Outcome
Voice-based UI is the next logical step in the evolution of fully functional, human-interacted artificial intelligences. As we continue to build upon resources, services, and platforms we will watch as AI develops and matures. As voice-based UI becomes increasingly ubiquitous in households on consumer devices, we will see healthcare facilities follow suit. Once voice-based UI, and the light AI associated with it, become prevalent in healthcare, then deeper AI will follow. This evolution will take time and care, but it will be instrumental to removing barriers to patient empowerment. It will fundamentally revolutionize the healthcare industry as we know it. 
The ideal hospital room experience empowers patients to transition easily from a state of dependence to independence as they prepare to continue their healing at home. Through our work on the diorama, we were able to:
  • Validate our premise and identify ways that voice-based UI and AI-powered devices can reduce staff stress and fatigue
  • Increase operational effectiveness
  • Improve patient safety
  • Reduce patient anxiety
  • Improve overall quality of care
  • Reduce cognitive load
  • Increase overall service satisfaction for hospital staff, insurers, patients and caregivers
Principles of Motivational UX

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