Woman with dreadlocks looking out window of a train.

The Future Vision of Migrant Healthcare

A human-centred design initiative to address the global migration crisis.


Context and Challenge

With over 65 million displaced people globally, the provision of basic healthcare is a growing challenge. We worked with the United Nations’ migration body, IOM, on the future vision of migrant healthcare. Using our human-centred design approach we looked at the problem from a different viewpoint than IOM would normally take, and the outcomes were quite different.

Our Contributions and Activities

This was an ideal opportunity to engage with the next generation of designers. As part of our third-level outreach program we invited leading design colleges to take part in our design bootcamp. Masters students applied from across Europe, North America, South America, China and India, and ten joined us in our Dublin offices. Engaging with the migrant community, we explored needs, shared ideas, and proposed solutions to the challenges. The students produced a number of exciting concepts which we refined with IOM.

Close-up of a medical application interface on a laptop screen.
A migrant family in consultation with an IOM aid worker.

Providing effective healthcare to migrant populations poses two key challenges: movement and communication. In the European context, many migrants are unwilling to take vital tests due to pressure to keep moving. Displaced patients have no continuous record of care as they engage with different aid agencies and healthcare systems. Furthermore, migrants come from a variety of countries, with different languages, literacy levels, and cultures. Communication difficulties add to anxieties, uncertainties and stress. It also increases the risk of inaccurate provision of care.

We explored the concept of a cloud-based electronic health record that could be accessed through patient smartphones. A system which empowers users to control and share their own health data, communicate it with healthcare professionals through a variety of languages, and allow them to receive test results, even while on the move. The mobile solution also acted as a connection portal for migrants to access remote consultations with doctors and nurses. This solution increases the number of medical specialists able to contribute their time and expertise without the need for long-term commitment or relocation. It also bypasses the issues many have faced trying to access local national healthcare services.

Medication labelling was also a problem area. Aid agencies often distribute medicines in Ziploc bags with hand-written labels. This results in limited and inconsistent information, leading to confusion. We looked to standardise labelling using icons, colours and numbering to simplify comprehension for patients and make distribution easier for healthcare workers. A web-based tool allows aid agencies to access a library of labels and customise them for specific circumstances. The ability to add multiple languages facilitates communication between patient and caregiver. Patients can also access full medication information in their own language by scanning the medication label with their phone.

Close-up of a medical application interface on a laptop screen.
Two Frontend.com team members working at a board room table.


IOM and Frontend.com unveiled the ‘Future Vision of Migrant Healthcare’ at DesignFix 2016, a symposium exploring the role of design in addressing the global migration and refugee crisis. This symposium took place a week before the historic ‘UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants’.

The outputs of this collaboration could potentially affect the lives of millions of the world’s most vulnerable people. More than just migrants, the labelling aspect of this project is being earmarked by IOM for submission to the WHO’s Global Health Cluster as a best practice for all major IGOs and NGOs providing emergency health provisions worldwide.

In addition, during the G7 Summit in Kobe in 2016, Dr. Davide Mosca, Director of IOM’s Migration Health Division, highlighted this project as an example of public-private partnerships enabling IOM to quickly respond and provide quality healthcare assistance.

IOM welcomes these much-needed developments. The migration crisis in Europe poses a real challenge in accessible healthcare. Our task, along with partners such as Frontend.com, is to come up with solutions. In this instance, innovative design and effective use of technology can help with the problems these people are facing.

Dr Teresa Zakaria, Migration Health Emergency Operations Coordinator, IOM

Awards and Recognition

This project received international recognition when it earned three awards at the IxDA Interaction Design Award ceremony in New York in February 2017. It was subsequently awarded the Grand Prize at the 2017 UX Awards in Palo Alto

  • Winner or the Grand Prize at 2017 UX Awards.
  •  Winner of the People’s Choice Award, 2017 IxD Awards.
  •  Finalist in the Connecting Award category, 2017 IxD Awards.
  •  Finalist in the Optimising Award category, 2017 IxD Awards.