From problem to prototype

Empowering patients and physicians to make informed decisions.


Different patients experience heart conditions in different ways. But physicians can only treat what they can “see,” and it’s sometimes difficult to diagnose a heart disease without the help of technology that can detect hidden patterns from otherwise undetectable symptoms. A global pharmaceutical company hypothesized that advances in hardware and software could help diagnose cardiovascular disease earlier and help patients better manage their heart health.


In early 2019, Stanford University announced preliminary findings from its massive Apple Heart Study, which demonstrated the Apple Watch’s ability to detect atrial fibrillation (AFib). Later that year, a private Medicare plan became the first to cover the Apple Watch as a benefit. A growing body of evidence around wearables and digital therapeutics made 2020 an opportune moment for early investment in technologies that could improve diagnosis and outcomes. But a digital therapeutic must meet a real customer need and fit into a physician’s clinical workflow. In this case, the intermittent and unpredictable nature of some heart conditions make it hard to track symptoms and arrive at a diagnosis. A digital solution — hardware, software, or a combination — could potentially enable communication and enhance the relationship between patients and providers.

The pharmaceutical company had spent considerable time examining the competitive landscape; the multidisciplinary global team had strong points of view on the business need, but the team knew the value of defining the real human problem to be solved.


Luminary Labs helped the company narrow in on the problem to solve, refine its hypothesis, and rapidly prototype potential solutions. We arrived at a single, refined solution that validated the client’s hypothesis and informed a future investment case.

We started by reviewing stakeholder materials, as well as conducting social listening and preliminary interviews with patients, providers, and subject matter experts to supplement and add context to the research. The multidisciplinary team gathered for a problem-statement workshop centered around the patient journey; together, we identified concepts and refined three leading concepts for the first prototyping sprint. We created low-fidelity paper prototypes of three distinctly different form factors — from purely digital to physical devices — and conducted design research with patients and cardiologists to better understand what end users wanted. The first sprint yielded a clear winner; we refined the leading concept and developed an interactive prototype of a software and hardware solution. During the second prototyping sprint, patients and providers interacted with and reacted to the prototype, generating deeper insights about what would meet customer needs and provide value to the company. Following the prototyping sprints, we formed short-term and long-term recommendations based on leading insights, critical success factors, and the unique value proposition.

It’s one thing to put a solution on paper (or in a slide deck); it’s another thing to test it with real people and learn through making and iterating. Our methodology — starting with a well-defined problem, then conducting flexible cycles of research, concepting, and prototyping with real patients and providers — produced a solution that helped the company pursue its digital therapeutic strategy with confidence.