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Designing with Empathy

One of the biggest problems facing health care today has nothing to do with care and everything to do with access. For some people, that means missing an important doctor visit due to transportation barriers. 

Hitch Health, a Minneapolis-based healthcare tech startup, partners with Lyft to provide rides to underserved populations. And they’ve succeeded so far with one simple action: putting patients first. 

Integrated software removes barriers such as the need for a smartphone or an app that stand in the way of many underserved populations. St. Thomas provided advice early on in their start-up phase. 

Integrating the whole person approach

The future of digital health is a regular teaching tool at St. Thomas. “We're big on innovation and particularly human-centered design,” says Dan McLaughlin, faculty member at Opus College of Business. “Hitch Health is a great case study to illustrate both advanced technology and the whole-person approach in our health care classes.”

“One of the knocks on the American health care system right now is that it’s too business focused," he adds. “We’re teaching healthcare leaders to look beyond the traditional delivery system and get to the heart of the real-life challenges of patients.”

Human-centered teaching encourages St. Thomas students to think beyond a single solution. How else can technology be harnessed to enact more change for the common good?

Understanding Human Centered Design

At its core, HCD prioritizes empathy for the end-user. It focuses on people's problems, goals, needs, thinking, emotions and behavior in order to come up with effective design solutions to those problems.

Susan Jepson, MPH, BSN and co-founder of Hitch Health, has used it to better understand the patients who would use the app at Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC). 

As she explains, “We’d ride on the bus with patients. If they had a medical appointment we’d take a taxi, Metro Mobility, or other vehicles. We experience first-hand what they deal with the health care system… waiting in line, being late for their appointment.”

“Hitch Health has connected students with a part of the health care system that many probably didn’t know about,” McLaughlin adds. “Understanding unique cultural barriers within communities can be a revelation to students.”

The Hitch Health case study was a collaborative effort between St. Thomas, Hennepin County Medical Center and United Healthcare.