How to Integrate Human-Centered Design into Smart Room Technology: 3 Tips from OhioHealth

Erika Braun, User Experience/Product Design Advisor at OhioHealth offers three tips for integrating human-centered design into your strategy, whether that’s fixing hospital flow or building smart room technology.

For as long as I can remember, I have had a passion for design. I completed my Bachelor of Science in Industrial Design at The Ohio State University in 2008 and spent the next five years working for a product design consultancy in the Columbus area. In 2013, I returned to OSU for a master’s degree in Design Research and Development, where I honed skills in navigating the fuzzy front end of the design process on projects that didn’t necessarily have a tangible, product outcome. This exploration of how design could be applied to complex problems, experiences, services, and workflows was the bridge that led me to healthcare, and ultimately to the User Experience (UX)/Product Design team at OhioHealth.

My team and I work daily to improve human experiences in various situations, including vulnerable times in the hospital room for patients, fast-paced care delivery for clinicians, navigating when and where to go for care, and engaging family members. This article offers three tips for integrating human-centered design into your strategy, whether that’s fixing hospital flow or building smart room technology.

Tip #1: Start with the End Users

If you’re not engaging with your end user, then you need to reevaluate your strategy. When I began working on the UX team at OhioHealth in2019, our first project addressed patient flow at the hospital. I joined a team of eight, which included: a digital product manager, a nurse, operational leaders, a data scientist, an Epic developer, and an informaticist. The goal was to understand the core problems related to flow and moving patients through the system. The key question was: Where are the bottlenecks?

Ultimately, it came down to getting out on the frontlines and identifying patterns in unmet needs for patients and our clinical teams. In doing this we discovered a shared problem they all experienced that we could fix. The same approach applied when we began imagining the hospital room of the future. Communication was a big problem we needed to tackle for both patients/families and our care team. We are tackling this in multiple ways through technology like RTLS (real-time location services) and interactive tools in the patient room.  

Mimicking what other organizations are doing, solutioning based on assumptions, or relying only on quantitative data limits the impact(and ingenuity) your strategy and solutions could bring. You need qualitative data. You need to observe and talk with your end users to gain empathy and understand not only what the issues/opportunities might be, but more importantly, who it impacts most, why it occurs, and why it is important to solve.

Not all end users are the same. For example, some patients are all about transactional care. They want to hop on a virtual visit and move right along. Other patients are adamant about the relationship. If they can’t see their primary care provider (PCP) promptly, they will wait until they can. Despite assumptions about elderly patients, we find that many are receptive to virtual visits/telehealth because it eliminates transportation issues. In the hospital, elderly patients have also expressed enthusiasm and interest in the idea of a hotel information and entertainment experience, as well as interacting with a virtual nurse who isn’t as rushed as a bedside nurse. Understanding the needs and expectations of different personas (i.e., groups of users), and not relying on assumptions, helps ensure the solutions we are designing work for our targeted users, meets them where they are, and offers surprise and delight.

If you have a hand in any aspect of the design process at your organization—even if “design” is not in your title—make sure you pay attention to who you are designing for. Better yet, bring them into the process and design with them. Interviews, observations, journey mapping, empathy mapping, and co-design sessions are all great methods to aid in the process.

Tip #2: Use a Visual Framework

Over the years I have found visual frameworks to be a simple, yet compelling way to explain core insights within a complex experience. These can be created using a variety of tools such as Adobe Illustrator, Whimsical, or Figma. Once you’ve gathered your insights, it is critical to explain not only what you’ve uncovered but more importantly to convey the “so what?” (i.e., why your audience should care). Visual frameworks, such as a journey map, can help here. Journey maps are useful in orienting your audience to an end-to-end experience, building empathy (i.e., conveying what the experience feels like to your users), surfacing relationships and patterns, such as pain points, and highlighting where the greatest opportunities for strategy/design might lie. One of the biggest shortcomings of presenting ideas in a PowerPoint is that it limits the ability to visualize dependencies and relationships within an end-to-end experience or ecosystem. Seeing the connections within the whole picture helps us identify the most important opportunities, or moments that matter. This is harder to see in bullet points.

A significant turning point for our team at OhioHealth was canvassing problems that various teams had unearthed and plotting them along a patient journey map. From needs in the wellness space and making decisions on where to go for care, to experiences in Primary Care, hospital stays, and post-visit needs(bill pay, chronic care management, etc.) we identified overarching opportunities(or moments that matter) for our patients. The centralized map created clarity and focus for our product and user experience team, while also becoming a source of truth for other teams in the organization, such as IT, marketing, and operations.

Tip #3: Choose the Right Partner

The final tip is to make sure you choose the right partner to join you on this journey. Successful human-centric design doesn’t happen overnight or in a silo. For us, it is the result of cross-collaboration inside and outside the four walls of our organization. Prior to choosing eVideon as our vendor partner for our new hospital, we mapped the desired experience we wanted our patients and families to have, we prototyped various digital experiences, and gathered feedback and requirements. Reiterating the importance of tip #1,we looked at the hospital experience from the point of view of our end users (patients, families, and staff) and used a mock hospital space to test, learn, and co-design the ideal experience with them.

When it came to looking for a partner, it was important to find a solution that resembled our ideal experience and a company that was willing to design and build with us. Fortunately, eVideon was a willing partner. It wasn’t a “take it or leave it” approach, but instead “yes, and.” They have been willing to work with us on new, expanded ideas to meet the needs of various use cases. They see our needs as an opportunity to grow their product, making it as good as it can possibly be. Having a partner that is willing and able to grow with your organization is invaluable—your organization will be better for it.


My passion for design has driven me to a fulfilling career in healthcare and Experience Strategy/Design at OhioHealth. Together with my team, we are committed to enhancing the patient experience, reducing clinical burnout, improving communication and transparency, tackling the nursing crisis, addressing vulnerabilities, and responding to the changing needs/expectations of consumers and the healthcare landscape. By incorporating human-centered design principles and considering the end users' perspectives, we aim to create smart technology solutions and meaningful experiences. Through continuous improvement and collaboration with our internal design/development teams and reputable partners, like eVideon, we strive to make a positive and lasting impression on patient care, ensuring a brighter future for healthcare.

Want to learn more about how my team at OhioHealth partnered with eVideon to create real-time locating systems (RTLS) integration and human-centered design for our patients and staff? Check out our recent article in RFIDJournal titled "Hospital Smart Rooms Leverage RTLS Data to Identify Workers".

Contact us today to learn more about the Vibe Health smart room platform!