Working at the Intersection of Human-Centered Design and Healthcare Technology: An Alumna Interview with Eleanor Burgess (SoC 2015)

Eleanor Burgess has been passionate about the intersection between human-centered design and healthcare technology since her days as a global health student here at Northwestern. After graduation, she received a Fulbright scholarship to obtain her Master of Science in Technology Entrepreneurship at University College London (UCL).

During her time in London, she completed a Fulbright research project in which she worked to create an online health community for chronic kidney disease patients in the UK. In addition to her research Ellie and three of her colleagues co-founded the company drfocused to provide clinician-focused digital solutions for the medical community. Currently Ellie is working toward her PhD in human-computer interaction at Northwestern.

Techstars London Headshots - Image ©Dan Taylor/Heisenberg Media.

Techstars London Headshots – Image ©Dan Taylor/Heisenberg Media.

What did you learn from your Fulbright project?

“Ever since I was a global health minor at Northwestern, I have been excited about the intersection between technology and health. While working toward my masters degree at UCL, I started a research project to build an online health community for chronic kidney disease patients. However, after conducting interviews with patients, I learned a key insight: many patients actually did not want to use an online health community. This experience emphasized the importance of talking to the people who will use the technology to accurately address their needs when developing healthcare tech.”

How did you create the idea for your company drfocused?

“After learning the importance of user-centered design, I went on to co-found my own company, drfocused. One of my classmates at UCL was a physician who pointed out the many issues doctors face when completing their arduous yearly mandatory appraisal, essential to maintaining their license to practice medicine. This appraisal is a yearly compilation of a doctor’s educational learning. Using my software design experience and my colleague’s experience as an Accident & Emergency doctor, we agreed to work together to create a solution for this problem.

Initially, we wanted to help doctors with their appraisals, but ultimately our vision is to improve the working lives of doctors. Until recently, many companies have created healthcare technologies and sold them to hospitals without much design input from health professionals. This method of tech design often fails to involve the clinician – the end-user – in the creation of tools to support medical practice.”

Tell us a little bit about the company you co-founded, drfocused.

Drfocused involves doctors at every design stage of our healthcare technology. My company has created an online community of doctors, called the Doctor’s Digital Collective (DDC), which provides opportunities for collaboration between physicians to design, build, and disseminate technology solutions. In collaboration with this community, we created an innovative app, and our first features support education and safety reporting for doctors in the . The drfocused app helps to streamline these processes, while simultaneously reducing the burden these reports inflict on doctors. Our future aim is to support all non-clinical administration tasks for doctors worldwide.”

Techstars London Headshots - Image ©Dan Taylor/Heisenberg Media.

The co-founders of drfocused

Can you explain how human computer interaction research supports global health?

“From my studies in the field of global health I have learned that many health interventions which had good intentions were often unsuccessful and had unintended consequences. Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) research works to prevent these unintended consequences in technology interventions. One major question is: how do we make a technology practical for those who use it? Many HCI scholars focus on improving access, personalizing, and reducing the complexity of technology. If we can accomplish these goals, we can ensure that our health technology works effectively for those who use it. Most importantly, global health and human computer interaction urge me to remain self-critical in my work as a technology designer and to be aware of the possible consequences of new technologies.”

As you are probably well aware, many global health scholars warn against “quick fix” healthcare technology solutions. How do you address this concern in your work?

“I always remember that every decision I make as an innovator has repercussions. Through my PhD work here at Northwestern, I have investigated how technology fits into a society and how that society changes as a result of implemented technology. I think critically about the effects of technology so that it can be accessible and beneficial to as many people as possible.

The recent , a new, evidence-based approach for addressing many of the complex and serious problems facing the world today, talks about the continued failed attempts to design and implement large, multi-stakeholder projects to revolutionize health systems. This is exactly the kind of “quick fix” we need to avoid. Instead we must focus our work on smaller projects that address specific problems. By addressing acute problems, we can better design systems and ensure that updates to the system happen quickly. We must also ensure long term adaptability of the technology. By asking user-centered questions and continually critiquing our own work, we can avoid failed ‘quick fix’ solutions.”

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