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Design Thinking in Healthcare

The hottest buzz in Silicon Valley around problem-solving is not a technology but rather a philosophy – Design Thinking. Design Thinking is an intuitive approach to problem-solving that allows for an expansive understanding of the different solutions before converging on the best solution.

What is Design Thinking?

A core component of design thinking is empathy with the people struggling with a problem or issue before defining the solution. Being empathetic to the users(s) means observing and understanding their points of view. Empathy helps ideate multiple solutions and prototypes before converging on the best possible solution. This is the core of design thinking, and it has been gaining traction in the high-tech industries that aspire to solve day to day problems of the modern world. Design Thinking, combined with relevant technology, creates new ways to solve everyday problems like transportation (ride-share) to banking (check deposit).

Need for Design Thinking in Healthcare

The need to heal and care is ingrained deep within us and is a primal form of empathy. Science, technology, commerce, and social policies have driven modern medicine towards a solution-focused approach outlined by Bryan Lawson in, “How Designers Think.”While this rush to "solution" has created silos of significant progress, the modern healthcare system still eschews the empathetic approach towards patients, physicians, and nurses. Patients experience this when they must fill out the same forms over and over again; physicians experience this as they are forced to rush through their "patient list" with just 6-10 minutes per patient; and as nurses experience this when they struggle to get in touch with the right physician. There are hundreds of similar examples that highlight what happens when empathy is removed from the solutions equation.

Design Thinking in Healthcare

Any attempt to solve for the complexity of healthcare cannot succeed without empathy towards the patients and care providers. This empathy takes us to the core of the healthcare mission: healing and the well-being of humanity. Physicians and Nurses are the most capable of effecting this mission. Currently, pervasive operational and administrative variabilities compromise their ability to deliver superior care. The infusion of multiple technologies only exacerbates the variabilities.

Applying design thinking introduces empathy toward the patients, families and care providers. This requires large scale "design" and "transformation" within healthcare.

Approach to Design Thinking in Healthcare

The following is a four-step approach to applying design thinking in healthcare.

  1. Profiling Phase: Create empathy profiles for patients, providers, support services and administrators by conducting structured interviews and scientifically studying existing data and processes from all angles and perspectives.

  2. Design Phase: Create a design theme (what is a theme) that cut through the healthcare continuum based for organizational alignment. The following examples have successfully been tested design themes that allow systems to focus on patient and provider experience.

    • Access and Arrival Management

    • Bed Management

    • Care Management

    • Interdisciplinary Communication

    • Orders Management

    • Medication Management

    • Patient Financial Services

    • Transitions of Care

    • Population Management

    • Consumerization

    • Wellness Management

    • Referral Management

  3. Transformation Phase: While design themes create horizontal alignment in the continuum of care and experience, transformation themes provide a framework to impact outcomes. The following example has been successfully tested and applied.

    • Analytics and Data Management

    • Quality and Patient Safety

    • Patient Experience

    • Communication

    • Benefits Realization

  4. Continuous Improvement Cycle: This phase focuses on creating organizational "stickiness" around the design and transformation elements. This is accomplished by creating a "Systems Operations Center" that allows patients, physicians, and nurses to focus on the primary goals of clinical outcomes, quality, and patient experience while administrators can focus on the operations.


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