Design Thinking in Healthcare

Keywords: Healthcare, continuous innovation, rapid prototyping, patient experiences, problem-solving, concierge medicine, value-based healthcare services

Leveraging Design Thinking to Shape the Future of Healthcare

A systematic review of design thinking on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website asserts that by increasing the focus on patient and provider needs, design thinking enhances innovation, efficiency and effectiveness in healthcare. Healthcare systems require continuous innovation. “However, patients and providers are not always considered when new interventions or system processes are designed, which results in products that remain unused because they do not account for human context, need, or fallibility,” the study observes. Design thinking can help fix this weakness and ensure that product teams incorporate user needs and feedback throughout the development process.

But hold on!

There is an important caveat to using design thinking in healthcare. In other industries, designers can successfully absorb customer inputs and tailor their products to meet user needs – without worrying about negative consequences to this approach. But in healthcare, that same method could turn out to be dangerous. What users want may not necessarily be beneficial to them, and the designer may have to override their wishes and go with what researchers or healthcare experts say.  Another drawback is that design thinking relies on a rapid-prototyping approach that tolerates — perhaps even encourages — failure. This mentality of ‘fail early, fail fast’ can lead to serious risks and negative outcomes when used in healthcare. “In healthcare, a balance must be struck between creating interventions that are effective and sufficiently palatable and feasible so that they will be used by providers and patients,” the study states.

Keeping Your Date with Doctors

In an insightful article on Harvard Business Review, authors Sharon Kim, Christopher Myers, and Lisa Allen observe that each year around 3.6 million people in the US miss or cancel medical appointments due to “transportation issues”, leading to annual costs for healthcare providers in the billions of dollars. The specific reasons why patients fail to show up are largely unknown, but understanding patient experiences can help solve the mystery, as well as cut costs. 

This is exactly where design thinking can make a difference. “Unlike traditional approaches to problem solving, design thinkers take great efforts to understand patients and their experiences before coming up with solutions. This thorough understanding of patients (for example, those who regularly miss appointments) is what guides the rest of the process,” write the authors, adding that though design thinking has been successfully leveraged in creating new healthcare products and spaces, it has been underutilized in addressing other important challenges, “such as patient transportation, communication issues between clinicians and patients, and differential treatment of patients due to implicit bias, to name just a few.”

Healthcare, a Hospitality Business

On HealthSpaces, writer Hannah Chenoweth in conversation with Lucas Artusi, Systems Designer at the Design Institute for Health, reminds us that people forget healthcare is a hospitality industry — instead, they get “wrapped up” in the clinical delivery aspect of it. And since hospitals and clinics are in the hospitality business, they can learn a lot from how successful hotels design their physical space and services to attract and retain customers. “Guests don’t just walk through housekeeping and the kitchen to get to their rooms, or wait in the lobby for 30 minutes, which is essentially what we make people do in healthcare,” she writes. 

The traditional approach to designing hospitals is turning out to be increasingly ineffective, since people are becoming “savvier about the experience they want to have and it’s driving them toward different business models, like concierge medicine”. But design thinking that is full of empathy and really listens to what patients want, has the potential to overhaul hospital layouts and make them, well, more hospitable. 

Artusi believes design is yet to fully express its potential in healthcare. He concludes, “By arming next generation physicians with the methodologies of design thinking, we’re equipping these students with a toolkit to become change agents. They can start provoking the system and driving the kind of change we need to see for a really human-centered, value-based healthcare system.”