Finding your users in digital health

Zak King
VP of Engineering
at Delfina
min read

In software design, it is practically gospel that you must look to your users for guidance. As a grad student at UC San Diego, I worked in the same building as Donald Norman’s wonderful Design Lab, and I remember hoping I could osmotically absorb a better design sensibility just by visiting the floor. Don Norman is a legendary advocate of user-focused design, and in his seminal book The Design of Everyday Things he said:

“Design is really an act of communication, which means having a deep understanding of the person with whom the designer is communicating.”

At Delfina, our mission is to ensure each of our pregnant users has a safe and healthy pregnancy. And our solution is a technology platform that runs on custom-built software. A pregnant user enrolled in Delfina can take a blood pressure reading from their own home, see their data in our app, and rely on Delfina technology to send that data to their doctor. Getting all of these pieces to work together seamlessly necessitates excellent software design and execution.

So how does this connect to Don Norman’s advice? It seems simple enough: the pregnant patient is our user, and so our team must develop a deep understanding of what a pregnant user needs, and deliver it as effectively as we can. And that’s a critical part of our work! … But in reality, our job is way, way harder.

Imagine the doctor who receives a new data point about a patient. Surely, that doctor needs to use Delfina software as well. In fact, our platform includes a Provider Dashboard that gives a doctor or midwife a tailored view of their patients and highlights those who are at risk and might benefit from additional care. The Provider Dashboard can help close the gaps in care that are responsible for so many faults in our maternal health system.

So now we have two user groups: as Don suggested, we’ll need a deep understanding of both patients and doctors. This is not a huge surprise. But what about the other people involved in connecting patients with Delfina, like nurses and medical assistants? As it turns out, for our partners in Texas, medical assistants play a critical role in getting patients up to speed on the Delfina app and the smart monitoring devices that make all of this possible.

After a patient leaves the clinic, we want to help them provide all the necessary data to render insights for their care team. Our Delfina Guides meet regularly with our patients to check in, encourage patients to submit accurate data, and offer a personal level of support during their pregnancy. So of course, we are also designing an app for the Delfina Guides.

We’re working to design a platform that improves outcomes for pregnant patients, closes the gap for providers and hospital staff, and incorporates personalized guidance from Delfina Guides—but when it comes to our customer base, we have a completely different set of users.  Digital health platforms like Delfina are often paid for by insurers and employers who have a financial stake in reducing the rates of costly complications. These customers are absolutely users as well; in fact,  they too are eager to use our up-to-date software dashboard to continuously monitor the effectiveness of Delfina.

Let’s take stock: patients, providers, guides, insurers, and employers. In the healthcare system, there are truly users around every corner.  Paul Farmer gave this advice in describing his mission to improve health outcomes in developing nations:

“We have to design a health delivery system by actually talking to people and asking, 'What would make this service better for you?' As soon as you start asking, you get a flood of answers.”

In our case, we get a flood of answers—and a flood of users—all of whom are important to delivering effective pregnancy care.

So what’s it like to be a software engineer at Delfina? It’s a challenging & gratifying role—and I feel lucky to be a part of this team! On any given day, we might be building a feature for iOS, Android, web, cloud, data engineering, hardware, telemetry, regulatory compliance, security, authentication, or maybe a hundred other things.

A particular focus for our engineers is to build reliable apps that meet all of our users’ needs. We have to think inclusively about our users, because the maternal health crisis is characterized by differential outcomes across race and socioeconomic status. The users who need Delfina the most will be the hardest to reach! For our engineers, that means we need to support patients who may not own the latest smartphone, or have reliable Wi-Fi, or speak English. Our patients might visit clinics that have internet outages, or even power outages, on a regular basis.

Thankfully, our engineers are up to the task! The first deployments of Delfina are already showing the ways that a system that touches many users across the pregnancy journey can bring together a holistic improvement in care. And, of course, our software engineers are supported by many other talented teams at Delfina, from product managers, to clinicians, to marketing experts (who convinced me to sit down and write a blog post!). That’s it for now — if you’re interested in joining us, get in touch at

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