Co-design in healthcare and technology

People are living longer and longer. This means that the number of people requiring care in the near future is set to increase exponentially. But the number of caregivers will actually decrease in the years to come as a result of the cuts in healthcare, as well as the number of beds and places in intramural care. Technology will play a major role in bridging this gap. Large and small companies are therefore working to develop a range of technological solutions that respond to this.

But successful innovation is more than just about the smart use of technology. It is also about creating a link between the technical world of products and the social world of men and women. New products and services must find a way of connecting with the environment of the user. Sometimes humans themselves also have to innovate in order to make a new product or service succeed. A kind of co-evolution is thus taking place in both the technical and social spheres.

Current problems in healthcare require radical new solutions and technology can play an important role in this. However, if this technology is developed without taking adequate account of human aspect, such as needs, social networks and context, the attractive solutions that technology may appear to offer will prove difficult to translate into the real world. Engineers and healthcare managers complain regularly that they have developed a really great product, but that users are unable to handle it. For example, the advanced PDAs for home care workers - the average age of these workers is over 55 and it takes them literally years to learn to work efficiently and effectively with them.

Why is this? It is partly because healthcare providers and most patients are 'people people' and therefore extremely reluctant to embrace new technology. And it is partly because of the approach of product developers, who tend to reduce care to carrying out functional tasks without considering adequately the intangible aspects and the context in which these tasks are done. A co-design approach can help to bridge these differences in perspective.