Design Thinking is a problem-solving approach that focuses on human behavior and needs. The process employs empathy, voluminous idea generation, rapid prototyping, and continuous testing to tackle complex challenges. Design thinkers take great efforts to understand patients and their experiences before coming up with solutions. They rely on their thorough understanding of patients to map the rest of the process. And because design thinking is iterative, feedback is sought early and often, especially from users on both sides.
Design Thinking can encompass the entire spectrum of patient experience — beginning from when the patient gets to the hospital/clinic to what happens when he goes back home and post-visit care.
There is an increased need to focus more on understanding the patient experience at a deeper level to solve whatever problems both sides encounter, along with enhancing the overall experience and lowering its costs.
How can Design Thinking work in Healthcare?
Design thinking makes you listen, really listen.
The Research and Synthesis phases of the design process involve the study of the actual user demographics to gain meaningful insights into their behavior.
Case in point –
A study investigating the hypothesis that improving access to healthcare for the transportation-disadvantaged population revealed that 3.6 million people miss or delay/reschedule their medical appointments due to issues related to unreliable transportation. This accounts to billions of dollars in annual costs for healthcare providers across the nation. These missed or last-minute reschedules end up creating several operational challenges as well, like schedule disruptions of care providers to interference with patient care and treatment. The specific reasons behind these no-show cases hold the key to improving the overall patient experience and saving those billions that go down the drain. In such cases, User Experience (UX) research and synthesis deep dives into assimilating and decoding user behavior — from what happens before people get to the hospital to what happens after they leave — reveals telling insights that usually go unnoticed.
User research techniques like contextual inquiries, user interviews, surveys and questionnaires, card sorting, etc. do the job of mapping the user journey from the point of origin to the destination – and thereby covering their pain points at various stages.
The synthesis part of the process is where the collected data is analyzed and made sense of. Conducted in succession, these methods manage to give a voice to the patients, caregivers, as well as the stakeholders, letting all three sides weigh in their opinions regarding the entire system and be heard.
Thus, in the further stages when the actual solution building happens based on user experience, it ends up being high on utility, practicality, and financial feasibility, solely because it is not sourced through thin air and is instead focused on solving real-world user problems in real time.
Design thinking helps the healthcare sector become proactive instead of reactive.
Healthcare is no longer relegated to the environs of a hospital or clinic. Monitoring human health is now a 24/7 activity with apps and wearables being an integral aspect of life as we know it. Ideation – a phase of design thinking which is an iterative process of finding creative solutions – is what helps keep up with this frenetic pace of progress.
As the healthcare sector evolves, so do its problems. Improved healthcare, for instance, is a huge factor in increased longevity, which throws up complex challenges of handling a growing population of the elderly. Another instance is centered around the increased awareness of mental health – considering that isolation and loneliness can be as debilitating to human life as cancer or diabetes. These are the challenges confronting the healthcare ecosystem at the moment, the kind of questions which require a deeper understanding of user behavior and curating unique solutions directed at specific as against generic problems.
The ideation phase of the design thinking process involves brainstorming – a technique that requires designers to put in their zaniest, most out-of-this-world ideas to solve human problems in an efficient, budget-friendly manner. These ideas are turned into simple prototypes to test their viability in real-world conditions. Only the best solutions make the cut into the design phase.
Applying the principles of design thinking does not necessarily require a designer’s qualification. Amitha Kalaichandran wrote in this New York Times article how a nurse working in the ED unit of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, suggested a simple yet innovative idea that the team leader in trauma cases wear a bright, easy-to-spot orange vest. This was to deal with a situation “in which a huddle of highly stressed emergency room staff members spoke over one another and there were no clear roles.” For trauma teams that constantly deal with high-strung situations requiring lightning-fast decision making, this tiny change “has helped clarify who’s in charge and strengthened communication among members.”
Thus, the key aspects of implementing design thinking does not involve rocket science, but is only centered upon –
- Empathy for the user, likely to be a patient or care provider
- Interdisciplinary collaborations
- Prompt prototyping of the innovation
Employing design thinking methodologies and techniques enables healthcare providers to revise their perspectives – they begin to see their patients as human first, and patient on a secondary level.
Areas posing design challenges in healthcare
- Hygiene and cleanliness
- Lack of empathy while dealing with patients
- Monitoring stocks
- Technology integration
- Patient transportation
- Treatment processes
- Communication issues between healthcare providers and patients
- Environmental impact and carbon footprint
- Data security threats
“It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.”
Design thinking is just like Batman – it’s always able to look for creative solutions to problems. It organizes scattered ideas and brings about subtle differences that make an impact. The purpose of design thinking is to delight users and to do so, the process employs methods that mix science and art with creativity and innovation. It requires decision-makers to empathize with patients, think creatively, ideate, and continually test solutions to these problems.