The important role of human-centered design in healthcare 

November 14, 2023

By: Kimberly Snodgrass, Cleoniki Kesidis

In 2023, with Medicaid renewals at the forefront of state health and human service department operations, we’re thinking a lot about how to create easy-to-use systems that allow people to demonstrate their eligibility for Medicaid. Without easy-to-use systems, many are losing Medicaid insurance for administrative or procedural reasons–even if they remain eligible.

Data shows that in Michigan, for example, one in every three individuals up for Medicaid renewal have had their coverage terminated in the first three months of renewals. Of these, 17 percent were denied coverage because they no longer qualified for Medicaid. The rest–83 percent–were denied coverage because they failed to complete the state’s renewal paperwork or weren’t able to verify their information properly. 

When individuals encounter challenges in navigating complicated systems, such as Medicaid renewals, they can be deprived of the support they deserve, potentially exacerbating their circumstances. For instance, if someone struggles to enroll in Medicaid, they might postpone important visits to their primary care physician or other preventive appointments. This frequently results in them seeking care for more severe and costly health conditions.

Human centered design: A solution.

Human centered design aims to solve challenges like these by deeply understanding the experiences of people affected by complicated systems. The design process can be applied to products, services, processes, or other things that meet real needs and help people become their healthiest selves.

If we understand people’s experiences, we can identify recurring pain points that prevent them from successfully achieving their goals. Once we understand this, we can build solutions that address these pain points. In its essence, HCD is a form of accessibility. 

Steps to take to achieve human centered design.

Civilla, a nonprofit based in Detroit, helped the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services improve and simplify their public benefits application, and shares five essential steps: 

  • Identify the challenge.
  • Figure out who’s directly impacted by the challenge. 
  • Talk to, observe, and collaborate with those people. 
  • Propose changes, see what people think about them, then test those changes to learn what works. 
  • Collaborate to implement the effective changes with a peer-led approach. 

In sum, inefficiencies are addressed collaboratively. Frontline staff work with organizational leaders, programmers, designers, and communicators. But the end users play a critical role, and evidence–about what works and what doesn’t–is essential. 

Human-centered design empowers individuals, enhances efficiency, and promotes a more inclusive and user-friendly society. Embracing this approach in the health and public health sector has the potential to create many positive changes.