Testing the limits: Designing the next wave of diagnostics

Partner and Executive Director
Senior Program Manager

About the salon

As we see the implications of medical testing play out in the media, low-cost diagnostic tools are slowly rolling out across the healthcare system. Covid-19 has accelerated public use of low-cost testing and lowered the barrier of entry for other types of testing. Meanwhile medical equipment manufacturers are creating dramatically smaller and cheaper devices. As these testing tools become a bigger part of our healthcare system, what does this mean for the medical industry? How can designers meet the needs of people who desire cheaper, more accessible testing?

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Our panelists

Elias Arjan is the CEO of Business Brain, a strategic consulting firm that serves brands in the health, fitness, and biotech industries. As the Executive Producer of Bioscience LA TV, Elias is working to connect the ecosystem of bioscience companies in LA county and beyond. Elias is also a sought after educator/speaker on wearable technology, biometric science, and wellness optimization; as well as the former Senior Vice President of Biostrap. Elias has been featured in LA Magazine, NBC’s California Live, LA Business Journal, and multiple podcasts.  

Carlos Gutierrez is a Director, Digital Experience Design at Johnson & Johnson Design, where he heads up the design team that leads the largest and most broadly-based healthcare company in the world. They have teams of 134,000 people at 260 companies in more than 60 countries across the world, where they produce life-changing breakthroughs every day and have been for the last 130 years.

Arthur Henderson is the Managing Director at Affinity Networks, a strategic advisory and systems integration firm delivering products and services to the healthcare, technology, and homeland security industries. Affinity Networks delivers consulting, design, and development services around information technology solutions, social media, and revenue maximization strategies for clients on an international basis.


Smart Design’s Executive Director Richard Whitehall and Senior Program Manager Mary Warren led the evening’s conversation, focusing on the broad changes taking place in healthcare systems and the effects they’re having on consumer experiences, along with other challenges companies in the sector—including Smart Design clients—can expect in the future.

Here are the key takeaways from the evening:

Use technology to improve health for all

Panelists acknowledged the recent advances in diagnostics—including sensor-equipped wearable products to gather health data—and its implications for consumers and patient care. Arthur Henderson of Affinity Networks discussed how data can empower users to do more to improve their health, provided they receive “actionable intelligence that affects their daily lives.” He conveyed that Affinity’s overall goal is to use technology to “enhance human flourishing” and address such traditionally underserved populations as veterans and the disabled.

For his part, Carlos Gutierrez of Johnson & Johnson Design expressed that digital tools can help achieve the “democratization” of healthcare “so that everybody can potentially access it.” With low-cost diagnostics, for example, mobile teams could go to resource-limited areas to take samples and then assess how to prevent certain diseases, such as those caused by intestinal worms. “What’s exciting to think about is how technology can enable us to mobilize quickly and identify these things before they continue to spread,” he explained.

Elias Arjan of Business Brain spoke about the benefits and challenges of ever-more-powerful data-collecting devices. molecular sensing technology, for instance, allows blood to be collected and analyzed so as to continually monitor glucose—essentially doing “blood work at home.” Yet, despite greater consumer acceptance, there are still unknowns about such technology. “Just because a device is on your wrist, it doesn’t necessarily mean [you] know how the sensor is collecting the data, what the quality of the data is, or how to interpret that data,” he noted.

Unlock the human component and encourage empathy

Technology is certainly driving the healthcare transformation, but Arjan, for his part, isn’t “betting completely” on AI, especially as a means of changing people’s behavior. “We have to reframe the conversation around that,” he argued, imagining a “new category” of healthcare intermediaries emerging to provide “empathetic human-to-human interaction” that facilitates behavioral change in order to improve health. Such intermediaries could include fitness trainers, nutritionists, or a friendly nurse who calls to check up on a patient to make sure they’ve measured their blood pressure. “We don’t just need more data from better testing and apps,” he concluded.

Gutierrez agreed that empathy and the human connection are critical. “Many people think that AI is going to change everything. But for what purpose?” he challenged. “Are you going to automate the whole process, as opposed to assisting someone to help them get what they need? Empathy needs to be there.” With diagnostics, he added, it’s important to have someone there—a “person component”—to help the patient communicate what they’re going through, “as opposed to machine-to-machine.”

While machines cannot practice medicine (at least for now), Henderson speculated that technology may someday be able to simulate empathy. “The level of machine learning now is more transactional,” he explained, “but where we’re going with natural language processing and other things … we’ll be able to duplicate some of that empathy.”

Prioritize the needs of patients—and physicians

In the meantime, Henderson noted, it’s important to figure out—with the help of designers—what consumers want to know and how to communicate it in an easy and comprehensible way. “Our experience has been that the consumer wants to know three things: When’s my next appointment? What are my meds? And what do I need to do today not to die?” Gutierrez picked up on this idea, asserting that what patients really feel is “the urge to know right now, What do I have?” Once they have a name for what ails them, it “seems to calm people, regardless of what it is.”

While the tidal wave of patient data is helpful, it can also overwhelm physicians and care teams. After all,  studies show that physicians usually spend an average of only 15 minutes with each patient and that less than two to three minutes of that time involves direct eye contact; otherwise, “they’re staring at a screen imputing data,” Arjan pointed out. One fix might be a new AI-assisted voice transcription technology that allows the doctor to look at the patient the entire time during the visit and helps determine the medical condition. Another advantage is it may also help stem the flow of doctors transitioning to concierge medicine, where they have more time with patients.

Gutierrez underscored that doctors need to speak up about the growing burden of data overload and advocate for what they need in order to be better healthcare providers. “Their voices and opinions matter,” he declared.

Establish guidelines and models to maintain data privacy

Our panelists concurred that the proliferation of data-collecting devices—as well as companies ready to exploit such information—raises concerns about data privacy and security. “This is the crossroads  between either dystopian or utopian futures,” Arjan warned, adding that particularly worrying is an Amazon wearable that listens to people and everything they say every second of the day. This rather eerily suggests that Amazon is able to measure a user’s psychological state and use it to determine the most opportune moments to make a sales pitch. “This is the level of detail that people aren’t thinking about when they talk about privacy,” Arjan said,  suggesting that an ethics committee should be looking into this issue and informing consumers.

Henderson recalled how early on it was universally accepted that “individuals owned their personal health data.” But that has changed and become more complex with health-related data collected from wearables, and people self-publishing health data on social media platforms. In addition, pharmaceutical companies use data to create derivative products, thereby making it more difficult to manage and control such information. The same general consensus was reached by all: While today the person is the product that is bought and sold, in the future, it might be their health data.


Even as technology plays an ever-greater role in healthcare, Gutierrez emphasized that the critical element is still the word “care.” That’s why individuals today are more concerned about somebody being there to help treat their health needs and support them, and less about what’s behind it all. “If we’re successful,” he predicted, “everything else, the technology, is going to fade into the background.”

Smart starters

Improve health outcomes
Leveraging low-cost, at-home diagnostics can empower consumers to change their daly behaviors to live healthier lives and reduce preventable illnesses. To make sure patients will make the most of this often complex information, ensure that the data they get is easy to understand and actionable.

Don’t forget a dose of empathy
While tech is driving change, more data and apps alone won’t solve healthcare problems. Patients need person-to-person interaction (and a better bedside manner). Unlock the human component of healthcare by fostering a stronger support network of well-trained healthcare intermediaries such as nurses and nutritionists.

Prioritize patients’ (and physicians’) needs
Be aware that people have an urgent need to know—and name—what ails them, and how physicians will treat their condition. At the same time, help doctors overwhelmed by the tidal wave of health data to refocus their attention on the patient and let technology fade into the background. 

Protect data privacy
Consumers must completely own and control access to their sensitive personal health data, so provide ironclad guarantees about safety perhaps using blockchain technology. To help advance scientific research and health outcomes, figure out a way to collect data anonymously—without compromising consumer protections.

About Richard Whitehall

Richard is responsible for Smart’s direction and Service Design and Strategy capabilities, along with client relationships in the mobility, health and wellness and technology sectors. Richard serves on the Design Management Institute’s Advisory Board and co-chaired the Design at Scale Conference in NYC. Richard has spoken at events across the US and EU, and received numerous awards for his work, including IDEA Gold, FastCo Innovation By Design and D&AD Design Awards.

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