Digital health and strategic design: Three lessons I’ve learnt

Close to twelve months ago I joined the Liquid team, initially as a contractor and more recently in a permanent role as Director of Health. Anniversaries are a great time to reflect, and upon doing so, I thought these 3 lessons are worth sharing with friends in healthcare who may be starting on their digital transformation journey. I wish I had appreciated these lessons earlier (oh the hours I would have saved!). 


Lesson 1: User research is an absolute must

My first big takeaway is this: you cannot get the best outcome without first completing user research – there’s no question about it.  

I used to be uncertain (avoided it like the plague) about diving into user research, for a few reasons. First, I thought finding users to participate would be hard. Then, I worried about interrupting them and taking up their limited and precious time (time-scarce clinicians and healthcare workforce issues playing a big part in this, amongst other things). And finally, I feared letting them down if I couldn't meet their needs. 

Turns out however, that if your service or product is useful and solves a problem for them, users are surprisingly easy to find and very willing to spend time talking about it. While offering incentives is often necessary (and also a legal requirement in some instances), I’ve found most people are pleased to help and appreciate being heard, even if it means juggling time to participate with their busy schedule. 

As for my fear of letting users down? On reflection, I understand that not engaging with users at all almost guaranteed that I would be. But by doing the research and delving into user pain points and experiences, we understand their needs better and importantly understand the diversity of needs. With regard to delivering them, that’s what user-focused strategic planning is for! Create the plan and address the needs over time. 


Lesson 2: Human-centred design is the path to adoption and return on investment

My second lesson is about human-centered design, which is obviously closely related to user research. For those of you who don’t know what this means (I didn’t for a long time!), at its core, human-centred design places the user at the centre of the organisation (for clinicians reading this, think patient-centred care). Throughout a project lifecycle, you make it a point to prioritise the needs, preferences and context of users. This approach helps you identify the real problems, worth solving. 

I've been part of digital teams where "human-centered design" was thrown around a lot, but unfortunately, it wasn’t put into practice when it truly mattered. When budgets tightened or deadlines approached, the operational needs of the organisation would take priority. We'd end up focusing more on what was technically feasible within the timeframe (how many requirements we can deliver within the contracted time), rather than prioritising which of those we should do well (delivering value to the users).  

Inevitably, we'd find ourselves wondering why people were struggling to use the system or why they were constantly complaining that it didn't meet their needs (and almost always putting it down to using the wrong change management approach). Interestingly, in all instances we would struggle with securing additional budget to support ongoing delivery or contract renewal, as it was difficult to demonstrate return on investment with lower-than-expected adoption rates.  

By ensuring human-centred design is actually part of what you do, you create value both for your users and the organisation as a result. 


Lesson 3: The power of a multidisciplinary digital team

The third and final lesson I've learnt is not to underestimate the power of a multidisciplinary digital team. For those who have worked in healthcare, you’ll be very familiar with multidisciplinary teams – they’re the backbone of delivering holistic care to patients. I've had the privilege of being part of such teams during my clinical days on the hospital frontline, and I've seen firsthand how each member's unique perspective contributes to the getting the best possible outcome for people in hospital. 

However, before joining Liquid, the digital teams I worked with operated in professional silos. Each stream would focus solely on delivering their tasks, often working in isolation and speaking their own specialised language. Within Liquid, our team is comprised of a diverse mix of skills: researchers, service delivery professionals, UI and UX designers, business analysts, solution architects, front-end and back-end developers, delivery managers and producers – all working hand-in-hand.  

Together, we have tackled the most ambitious projects our clients have thrown our way. I'll admit, there have been times when I felt overwhelmed by the sheer scope of the task at hand, wondering how on earth I would deliver what was needed. However, as part of a multidisciplinary team, we've risen collectively to the challenge time and time again, often exceeding the expectations of our clients.  

Liquid is a strategic design and digital consultancy that specialises in solving complex everyday problems for organisations in Health, Government and Education. If you have a digital health project in mind and want to work with me and the broader Liquid team, please message me or email me at I am keen to build our digital health services portfolio, and I would love to hear from you.