A mobile app that connects patients with providers in service of creating a customized, comprehensive post-operative care plan.
How might we make it easier for patients to recover from surgery at home?
People who have had out-patient surgery often need more comprehensive post-op care than they are given by their healthcare providers. Healing from surgery can take weeks, months, and in some cases, years. As a patient recovering at home, it can be hard to determine a serious complication versus the ups and downs of the normal healing process. Surgeons’ time is very limited, and providers may not have the resources to give patients the post-op attention they deserve. Additionally, there are other ways to assist recovery that are not performed by a doctor - such as a healthy diet, exercise, lymphatic massage, and oxygen therapy - just to name a few.
In 2019, there were 11.9 million outpatient surgical procedures performed in the US. In fact, over 70% of surgeries performed in the US occur in the outpatient (ambulatory) setting, according to a 2017 report from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). Surgical procedures are on the rise, with hospital stays shrinking due to limited hospital resources and the high costs of hospital stays.
With so many people having procedures and returning home with minimal guidance, it can be very confusing for patients to know what to do and when to do it, without waiting for a follow-up appointment to see their doctor again. So, we wanted to investigate: How might we improve the recovery process after being sent home from the hospital? How might we empower patients to take their long-term recovery into their own hands, while ensuring they follow the guidance of their doctor?
User Pain Points
After gathering some information via surveys and interviews with people who recently had surgery, we found:
- 59% of patients only received verbal post-op instructions from their doctor
- Many of these patients struggled to remember what they were told to do
- Some patients reported they were given instructions while still under the effects of anesthesia
- Only 44% of users said their doctor was available to answer questions after the procedure
- Only 25% of patients were given an exercise or diet plan recommended by their doctor
- Only 50% percent of survey respondents said their provider recommended additional healing therapies (such as vitamins, supplements, lymphatic drainage massage, red light therapy, or oxygen therapy)
Our preliminary user research with surgical patients found that there is a lot of room for improvement when it comes to post-op recovery. Many of our users had questions after the procedure and experienced difficulty or delay with getting answers from providers, and they often felt they were on their own.
Landing on the Solution
Based on the user’s pain points, we knew we wanted to work on the following features:
- Clear, step-by-step post-op instructions input by the provider
- Information on expected healing stages & wound care
- Explanation of potential complications to look out for
- Messaging with doctor
- Ability to upload pictures for doctor review
- Booking follow up appointments
- Doctor-approved, healing-focused diet plan
- Guidelines for appropriate exercise
- Information on additional therapies that assist in recovery
Explanation of Solution
Knowing that healing is a journey - it takes time and is different for everyone - we wanted to come up with a solution that allows for customization based on an individual patient’s surgery and health goals.
Future versions of this app could be expanded to include:
- A way to book additional providers within the app (massage, PT, etc)
- A recommended plan for dietary supplements
- A guide to health insurance - what treatments are covered and which are not?
Product Manager Learnings:
In completing this sprint, I learned the hard lesson that there will never be “enough” time! There will always be more research to do, more people to interview, and more insights to gather. The advantage of a sprint is that it allows you to move quickly through the research and ideation process, so you can validate assumptions early on and gain perspective on which direction to take. And that direction may not align with your initial assumption!
The idea for PostOP went in a different direction when I began to talk to people and empathize with their experiences. Even though this idea was born from a personal experience I had, I could only start to see the truly meaningful patterns when I forgot about myself and thought about the problem space from a wider perspective. The key thing I learned here is to be open - to really immerse myself in the problem space - and to shift focus to the features that are most universally impactful.
Finally, the supportive nature of the Co.Lab community was really encouraging, and gave me the tools and confidence to step into a problem space that is massive, daunting & complex. Anything is possible if you are willing to take baby steps in the right direction, have a clear process, and the valuable support and feedback of a community of curious minds.