Harvard Medical School

Smart pediatric growth chart app

A Design-led Approach to Healthcare

To infuse technological prowess and efficiency into a clinical setting, digitizing electronic healthcare records (EHR) seems to be just what the doctor ordered. But with time-tested tools like the pediatric growth chart, which provides an essential picture of a child’s development, clarity and understanding are getting lost in the virtual translation.

Currently, growth charts aren’t designed to help clinicians get a quick and accurate view of a child’s growth pattern.  And it isn’t just doctors that are getting confused. Recent findings show that clinical growth charts are too technical to meaningfully communicate to most parents. Since growth patterns are the first clues into the state of a child’s health, this can seriously impact these young patients.

SMART, a collaborative initiative between Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital, saw this challenge and wanted to retool the pediatric growth chart in a way that would make the data clear and engaging for both professionals and parents. What do you prescribe for rebuilding a medical tool in a digital context? A dose of user-centered design.

Creating a Designer and Doctor Dream Team

To get an authentic understanding of the daily challenges that medical staff have with the pediatric growth chart, Fjord’s design team put on their scrubs and kicked-off an immersive research phase. We interviewed pediatric and medical informatics specialists to get a holistic understanding of how the growth chart is used: from graph content to contextual settings. This in-depth research process unearthed insights on how the charts were actually being used and how design thinking could transform them into powerful communication tools.

Working closely with a panel of pediatric specialists, Fjord’s goal was to combine design thinking and medical expertise to create an interactive dashboard that would quickly highlight the most important aspects of a patient’s overall health.

Turning Medical Intuition into Design Thinking

The result of the collaboration is an open-source, interactive pediatric growth chart app that integrates multiple graphs into a single view in order to gain a detailed, all-encompassing picture of a child’s health.

The chart also deepens a clinician’s understanding of the patient’s health by allowing them to plot the child’s measurements against different charts at once, such as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Downs Syndrome. Growth patterns can reveal critical information, like early signals of obesity or thyroid disorders, so this customized view of a patient’s health and its ability to clearly detect these anomalies, is essential.

Since mistakes in a patient’s care can arise from data entry errors, we developed a feature that can compare prior entries in order to confirm whether or not that information was intentionally entered. The app can easily detect incorrect data without distracting a clinician from their focused workflow.

To make it easier for clinicians to communicate important information about their child’s health to parents, the chart includes a parental view. Instead of complex charts, Fjord created simple visuals that present data in an engaging way to aid the conversation between clinician and parent. For the first time, parents don’t have to be medical geniuses to have a clear understanding of how their child is progressing.

With the successful re-imagining of this important medical tool, it seems that immersive research and engaging visual design are the perfect cure for complex electronic healthcare records.

The SMART growth chart app, which we now are contributing to the community, provides a powerful example of how unleashing the talents of companies like Fjord that go beyond the usual health IT suspects can vigorously accelerate innovation to the benefit of many patients
Isaac Kohane MD, PhD, Pediatric Endocrinologist and Principal Investigator of the SMART Platforms Project