The future of the U.S. healthcare industry will be determined in part by how it contends with two key pressures—rising demand and limited capacity. With 10,000 Americans becoming Medicare-eligible every day, demand for care will only increase in the years ahead. Meanwhile, a persistent and growing physician shortage—made more acute by the retirement of Baby Boomer doctors—threatens capacity for care when it’s needed most. The potential effect on the nation’s already strained ecosystem gives cause for concern. 

Digitization efforts, driven largely by new federal standards and investments, have helped bring US healthcare into the 21st century. These changes are a significant improvement on traditional analog systems. But at the same time, they have had a negative impact on how providers deliver care. Physicians now report spending two hours on the computer for every hour spent with patients. Poor user experience (UX) design isn’t helping. To take just one example, many electronic health record (EHR) systems were built on top of existing billing code systems, so they’re better suited for the workflows of billing coders, not providers. In addition, the industry is playing catch-up when it comes to interoperability because EHR systems weren’t designed to communicate with one another. The resulting increase in provider workload, when combined with already long hours, new performance requirements, and a shifting regulatory landscape, make it no wonder that physician burnout has reached the level of “a public health crisis.” 

A dire picture for sure. But also a sign that the healthcare industry needs innovation and investment now more than ever so that providers can focus on what they trained for: providing their patients the highest level of care. 

In preparing for a recent iF Intentional Learning session, we did a deep dive into digital products for healthcare providers. We saw the good, the bad, the promising, and the “who on earth designed this.” Our research identified a wide range of trends, challenges, and potential opportunities for innovation. 

One theme that surfaced repeatedly was the smart design of products created by physician-founders. These entrepreneurial MDs use their firsthand experience to identify and solve problems that providers face—often while maintaining their own clinical practice. 

  • Dr. Barrett Larson, co-founder and CEO of Leaf Healthcare, created a disposable wireless sensor to track patient movement and help nursing staff prevent bed sores: a painful, expensive, and unnecessarily common problem in healthcare facilities. A recent Stanford study found that Leaf sensors reduced the incidence of bed sores by 73 percent.
  • Dr. Justin Barad, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon, co-founded OssoVR to improve training for providers like himself. This virtual reality platform lets surgeons, hospital staff and sales teams practice cutting-edge procedures and train on the latest medical devices before they ever set foot in the OR.
  • Dr. Alexi Nazem co-founded Nomad Health to make it easier for doctors and nurses to find freelance clinical work. This online marketplace directly connects providers with potential employers and makes the entire job search process simpler and more transparent. 

Our conversations with these and other physician-founders throughout the country made clear how crucial providers’ on-the-ground knowledge is to the product design process. We share their optimism about the future of healthcare and hope to see more companies include providers in digital product design in the years ahead.