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Encouraging Innovation: Drug Discovery and Clinical Trials

UX Matters | December 5, 2016 –

As experience designers, we love solving messy, wicked problems. Therefore, many experience designers are now focusing on fixing problems relating to healthcare. We’ve made great progress in improving the healthcare experience. We’re using journey mapping to streamline and improve healthcare providers’ processes—for example, hospitals’ check-in and discharge processes and pharmacies’ processes for dropping off and picking up prescriptions. We’ve designed new channels that let healthcare providers communicate with their patients. We’ve helped make clinics’ physical spaces more warm and welcoming.

No doubt such improvements have made the experiences of being a patient or caregiver better. In fact, many of us have experienced these improvements personally. But there is a healthcare process that, while much less visible and tangible to the average person, offers the possibility of dramatically improving people’s health once we solve it: clinical trials.

Clinical trials and the drug-discovery process overall enable pharmaceutical companies, medical-device companies, doctors, hospitals, and researchers to innovate new and improved ways of treating and caring for people. However, the clinical-trial process is significantly flawed—both for the organizations driving such trials and for patients—so much so that innovation has stalled.

In this column, I’ll first describe the current challenges of the drug-discovery process—focusing primarily on clinical trials. Then, I’ll explore how we can apply more holistic, people-minded, design-thinking approaches and emerging technologies to such a highly scientific and research-driven field to improve the clinical-trial process, encourage innovation in pharmaceutical treatments, and improve health outcomes.

Understanding Clinical Trials

The purpose of clinical trials is to add to our medical knowledge. Common reasons for conducting a clinical trial are to evaluate drugs, medical devices, or new approaches to surgery; find ways of preventing the initial development or recurrence of diseases; find new approaches to identifying or diagnosing specific diseases; or explore ways of improving quality of life for people with chronic illnesses.