The Role of Human-Centered Design in Healthcare Innovation: a Digital Health Equity Case Study

Ximena Levander
Hans VanDerSchaaf
Vanessa Guerrero Barragan
Hetal Choxi
Amber Hoffman
Emily Morgan
Eva Wong
Raghav Wusirika
Anthony Cheng
Case Example
November 2023
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This case study details how a health system used human-centered design approaches to address disparities in access to telehealth services, including through collaboration with patients.


The Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) monitored disparities in digital health care utilization and found lower rates of virtual (video) visits among patients who were Black, American Indian/Alaska Native, non-English speakers, older, and insured by Medicare or Medicaid. To address this issue, OHSU used human-centered design (HCD), a collaborative approach to health care redesign which prioritizes the user’s needs, behaviors, and experiences in designing an innovative approach to problem-solving. The OHSU team used HCD to help address the digital health access gaps and improve health equity within their health care system.


The team consistently and continuously engaged patients throughout prototype design, development, testing, iteration, and adaptation phases to create patient-centered innovations. The unique viewpoints of patients and multi-disciplinary care teams allowed for creativity in solutions and for stakeholders to grasp the extent of the problems that needed to be addressed. The HCD process led to identifying four interventions related to digital health navigation: (1) training community health workers to provide digital navigation support, in partnership with community-based organizations; (2) tabling at community events where digital health navigators provide individual support; (3) conducting phone outreach to support virtual visits; and (4) disseminating patient-facing tipsheets.


Using an HCD approach can lead to better understanding of disparities in digital health care utilization can inform a HCD approach and developing responsive interventions to address these disparities. Health care organizations can use HCD to identify patient needs and priorities, generate innovate approaches, and advance health equity. HCD approaches allow for innovation that would not have result from traditional quality improvement efforts.

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