Our Experiences

Design thinking in healthcare

Nov. 23, 2017 Shagun Seth

Design Thinking is an empathetic approach to problem solving that puts the user or customer at the centre of the project.

Almost all health care professionals understand human suffering. However, there is still a top down approach on doctors advising patients on what to do with not enough empathetic user understanding of the patient’s needs, pain points, expectations and fears

Let us take emergency wards for example. A design thinking study done in a Toronto hospital found that while emergency wards are prepped with the right supplies, nurses etc. very little was done to understand the patient’s concerns and anxieties in an emergency scenario.

Upon doing empathy research, a simple but startling revelation emerged. Patients and their families coming into emergency wards are confused, anxious and scared (not to mention seriously sick or injured). In such a scenario, they are unclear of whom to reach out to, whom to listen to and what needs to be done in the maze of doctors, nurses and hospital administrators thereby wasting precious time.

Having identified this need, the hospital in Toronto implemented a simple but effective strategy: get the leader of the emergency ward to wear an easy to spot orange vest to clearly signal to the patient and to the emergency room staff members on who is in charge. This allows for quick delegation of tasks within the team and simultaneously reassuring the patient that his needs are being addressed by the right person.

Another important aspect of design thinking is to break down a larger problem, define and prioritize needs. This often results in identifying small but powerful hacks that can make a significant difference to address the problem.

For example: take the complaints of poor food quality in an Indian hospital catering to long term patients. Using design thinking, a hospital administrator we worked with tried to break this problem down.

Interestingly, he found out that cold rice served along with the meal was a critical component of the poor meal experience. This was because the food was prepared early in the morning which was then served only at 1pm. He asked the mess workers to stick to their original schedule but simply prepare rice 30 minutes before lunch time!

Just by this simple hack, the perceived meal experience at this hospital improved dramatically.

Another tool of design thinking: rapid prototyping, can be a valuable tool in the healthcare system. The advantage of building a rapid prototype (story boards, role plays, pilot experiments) is that it allows us to create something tangible that can be tested in a real environment, thereby allowing us to take feedback from real users to iterate and create desirable solutions.

This phase is also a great time to bring in minds from different disciplines to allow for cross pollination of ideas and solutions.

In an industry where user experience and satisfaction is often low (long waiting time for patients, poor food, not enough doctors, missed medical appointments, poor overall service), design thinking can not only help in unlocking new innovations but also help in spotting clear opportunities which can have a substantial impact on user experience with minimum effort and costs

‘When you first start off trying to solve a problem, the first solutions you come up with are very complex and most people stop there. But, if you keep going and live with the problem and peel more layers of the onion off, you can arrive at some very elegant but simple solutions’ – Steve Jobs

Would love to hear your thoughts on how else you think design thinking could help improve patient experiences. Leave a comment below!

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