The Role of Design for Healthcare

by | Jul 28, 2021

3 mins

Conversational AI in Healthcare on How Chatbot AI Helps Sutter Health Overcome Challenges of Covid-19 with Chris Waugh, Chief Innovation Officer at Sutter Health. The MarsPod – How AI is Changing Society, host by Mark Wesley, Marketing Manager, at MarsCrowd.


Our guest Chris Waugh shares his view about where design meets AI and how Sutter Health developed solutions during this pandemic.

The Role of Design for Healthcare

[00:03:01] MarsPod: Can you tell us a bit about your background as Chief Innovation Officer at Sutter Health and how you got there?

[00:03:13 – 00:06:00] Chris Waugh: I started my career in bicycles. People will look at my background and think, “wow, that was industry-shifting!” But for me, it’s been about this constant through all of it: the human body. Whether that’s trying to get people to be their fittest selves through bicycles or going over into idea where we did many design work and food and wellbeing and ultimately health.That led me to come to a startup in Silicon Valley called “One Medical” that has been done a lot in primary care. And then here at Sutter, which is the whole spectrum of healthcare delivery. The language of “design” was really important. It’s a missing piece within the healthcare world. There’s a lot of logic in the healthcare world.

A lot of if—”then, then this, then that”—This notion of evidence-based care, scientific proof gets us in the right direction for our patients. That’s a very solid ground for health delivery, but it can lack emotional intelligence. These show up in interesting ways: questions where patients don’t give us honest answers to the reality of people’s lives. Like how there’s so much healthcare asks of people in terms of change, dramatic shifts, and dramatic lifestyle shifts in context.

And it can be a lack of respect for culture, tradition, heritage context, financial security, and all the things that impact somebody’s health outcomes. And so, there are design meeting ideas, background, healthcare. And design meeting healthcare, and now technology meeting healthcare.

There’s this convergence of human emotion plus technology plus science—Converging through a manifested product that is well-designed, it is the difference between a good clinical outcome and a bad clinical outcome—expensive care vs. less expensive care. So I am excited about those things coming together.

And my function in the company is to incubate and design next-generation healthcare services brought to life through an existing, very large healthcare organization. And doing that alongside our 10,000 plus physicians, the nurses, the transplant surgeons, and the primary care doctors, these are all folks that can convene to bring that future to life.

So you could do it outside of our large organization, but you’re not going to have the doctors or the infrastructure or the capacity and the licensure, all the things you need to deliver care. And that’s what makes this job really exciting.

Chris Waug, CIO, Sutter Health-1

[00:06:13] MarsPod: What do you think technology would look like without the design aspect?

[00:06:20] Chris Waugh: We can build something like technology untethered, is there’s lots of technology in the world. But that’s not actually solving a human need. So I think of design and human-centered design as something to edit out and filter which technologies will be the most important, and curated technology to solve this problem or fulfill an opportunity for humans. 

And I think that’s where technology by itself can sort of chase around for technology’s sake. But design is the grounding for the applicability of “where do we do what- what technology do we need?” It’s a human-first approach. Technology is a tool that we have available to us to fulfill what human opportunity is. Whereas many organizations can go technology first, and then there’s a lot of failure along the way. You realize it’s a technology that’s not solving a problem or a technology that doesn’t understand the context in which it’s being introduced. So a good example of this would be – there’s lots of software that can supposedly help a physician, but if you’re really in a physician’s shoes, one of the major complaints is how do we eliminate the keyboard?

Because it’s getting in the way between a physician, their craft, and their connection with their patientsAn obvious technology would be to eliminate the keyboard. Which would be a great breakthrough, and there’s some great technology there. That’s solving a problem. Whereas just using technology for technology’s sake isn’t going to get us anywhere.


[00:08:09] MarsPod: Exactly. Thinking about doctor’s appointments, where you’re seeing a doctor, but they’re at a desk typing everything that you say. It seems like technology can take it to a point where you eliminate that desk, or you eliminate that computer from the room and allow there to be that patient-doctor interaction.

[00:08:29] Chris Waugh: Right! And the innovator’s job is to ask: why to the level of why does someone need to come in? Why would they come to us? And we don’t go to them? Why is it one person at a time where? Don’t we include more of the ecosystem around the person? 

It can be ambiguous, but coincidentally, the pandemic (though we hate that it was a pandemic) has spotlighted adopting these tools because there was a much bigger need than a readiness. So physicians were very ready for the technology for their own protection and the protection of their patients, people who wouldn’t have otherwise used video technologies or technology generally.

And I’m going to share an AI with you in a bit. They were far more willing to do it because the constraints were higher than they were in a non-pandemic state. And so we think that’s created a permanent shift. That’s exciting though, very sad that that was built on a pandemic crisis. But sometimes, those shifts change the interest in technologies, in their applicability.

Learn more in audio transcription Pt.2 about How Sutter Health Teams up with Ada Health for AI-powered Conversational Chabot for a personalized symptom assessment platform.


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