Data solutions often require months for implementation: there’s technology to integrate, users to train and cultures to shift. But in the middle of the pandemic, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) didn’t have months. Every minute was a missed opportunity.
When COVID-19 outbreaks began rapidly spreading across U.S. nursing homes, CMS and the CDC knew data was key and time was of the essence. CARES Act funding was quickly linked to nursing homes’ infection prevention performance. Enforcement of prevention protocols was led by CMS, infection tracking and forecasting by the CDC.
All of that work required data to be collected from 17,000+ nursing homes every single day. Neither agency was set up to do data transfer on that scale nor at that speed. And in the early days of the pandemic, all of that data was being exchanged via daily emails.
But implementing a new application wasn’t as easy as a switch flip. CMS and the CDC had more than a data problem. They needed a design solution, too.
“Data transfer isn’t only about technology. Integrity, speed and success depend on whether and how easily role players can use it,” says Ventera’s Head of CX & Design Tanya Netayavichitr. “We knew we had to design a solution with quick, seamless user adoption.”
Even the slickest data solution can fail if user onboarding is clunky or people struggle to use it. Ventera’s user-centered design (UCD) and data solutions teams worked with CMS and CDC stakeholders to get a clear understanding of how people engaged with the data at every step.
Different role players input, extract and analyze data in different environments. Each one had varying levels of tech literacy. The solution needed to meet them where they were. But the only way to truly understand what that looks like was to test the product with users.
Rapid prototyping drives product success
Testing products like the data solution for CMS and the CDC across the development cycle not only helps our UCD team get feedback, but it prompts stakeholders to think about the problems we’re solving, and helps designers and developers communicate how we intend to solve them.
“Our goal is always better outcomes for users. They need to be able to solve problems and achieve their jobs-to-be-done without struggling or getting frustrated,” says Netayavichitr. “Zeroing in on what that looks like in a product experience moves faster with rapid prototyping.”
Instead of getting to a launch-ready product with user pitfalls and glitches to fix, designers and developers work in powerful, brief sprints to design, build, test, improve, repeat with rapid prototyping.
Prototypes take different forms — from low-fi sketches to mid-fi wireframes and high-fidelity prototypes — and each can be used to communicate elements of the project, get feedback or even test real functionalities.
Ventera’s UCD team uses rapid prototyping to simulate the experience of a product and work with users to answer specific questions about how it works, then iterate on how to improve the experience.
For the CMS and CDC solution, our UCD and data teams built prototypes of the managed file transfer (MFT) solution at mid-fi and high-fidelity levels as the project progressed. Researchers used both moderated and unmoderated (remote) testing to quickly collect feedback from different users. Designers were able to rapidly adjusted the prototypes based on feedback. Design, build, test, improve, repeat.
Within 2-3 sprints, Ventera implemented the MFT solution to enable reliable, secure and immediate data exchange between the agencies and 17,000 nursing homes.
How UCD navigates uncertainty
“Prototypes help us show stakeholders what the future of a product might look like,” says Netayavichitr. “Testing empowers designers, developers and users to communicate what the experience is like and how we can continue improving it.”
Often mistaken for the way a product or application looks, design is actually about communication, experience and collaboration, says Netayavichitr. There’s no one way to create or design an experience, especially when there are different types of people involved.
“UCD is a radically collaborative practice that makes you ask more questions, continuously improve the experience you’re delivering and be open to change in response to evolving user needs.”
In other words, UCD means you’re always learning. Centered on design thinking and powered by growth mindset, UCD has helped many organizations navigate their products and business models through the pandemic and bumpy economy. Uncertainty isn’t a concept brought by the pandemic. Disruption happens to businesses every day.
Instead of scrambling to find ways to get back to “normal,” design-driven organizations learn about how conditions are changing and talk to people about how their lives are changing too. Being design-driven isn’t unlike being data-driven. And it’s not a fleeting utility. Navigating market disruption, innovation and future crises — from economic to climate — will require businesses to be nimble, get agile and always be learning.
Even when a deliverable has a finite deadline, UCD ensures whatever that product or experience is will continuously be tested and improved. CMS and the CDC won’t stop collecting data when the pandemic is under control. They’ll be better equipped to collect data and get ahead of the next crisis.