Design Thinking: Just a Little of That Human Touch

Traditionally, healthcare organizations have viewed their patient populations as just that – a singular group that was, for the most part, uniformly interacted with. Over the past two decades, growing consumerism in healthcare has necessitated a shift in that antiquated mentality. Addressing patients as individuals with unique circumstances, needs and preferences is status quo as the industry recognizes that providing a personalized experience has a direct impact on the bottom line. 

As healthcare’s players continue to adopt a consumer-centric mindset as a business priority, it’s imperative they seek strategies for improving the patient experience. Design thinking, which embraces the understanding that “patient” is one of many hats an individual wears, is transforming the way the healthcare organizations improve the patient experience, achieve better clinical outcomes and lower costs.

Taking A Page From Consumer Tech’s Playbook

Harvard Business Review defines design thinking as “A creative, human-centered problem-solving approach that leverages empathy, collective idea generation, rapid prototyping and continuous testing to tackle complex challenges.” It’s counterintuitive to put humans at the center of problem solving in the context of using technology, but this model has been used successfully, particularly by companies that have built their businesses solely in digital. 

When embarking on the journey toward digital transformation, it’s worth looking toward companies that have figured out how to generate revenue by using insights gained about the consumer to tailor the user experience.

We’ve discussed how Netflix analyzes user data to determine the programming it licenses. Amazon, too, has mastered the practice of tapping behavioral data and analytics to gain insight into shoppers’ preferences to create repeat customers and increase sales. In fact, 35 percent of Amazon’s sales are generated through its recommendation engine. If hospitals were guaranteed more than a third of their revenue would result from personalizing the patient experience, it’s safe to say the topic would claim the first spot on healthcare leadership meeting agendas nationwide.

Where The Rubber Meets The Road

To understand how healthcare organizations can replicate the success of tech titans like Amazon and Netflix to improve the customer experience, we need to know what’s propelling healthcare consumerism. One of the primary factors behind the movement is advancements in technology allowing widespread access to information. The Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality identified two of the top 10 complaints from patients shared post-hospital discharge as “lack of clear communication” and “not keeping whiteboards updated.” Their frustrations stemmed from not knowing who was providing their care and not receiving regular updates on their condition.

Knowing patients except transparency and the ability to quickly and easily obtain information about their care, Asheville, North Carolina-based Mission Health used design thinking when planning patient rooms in its freshly constructed Mission Hospital North Tower set to open this fall. The health system identified common and costly patient-related issues and addressed them using state-of-the-art technology. 

To bridge communication gaps and ensure open sharing of up-to-date, accurate and readily available information, Mission Health’s new patient rooms include 55-inch high definition smart televisions that provide entertainment and aide in patient care. The TVs display information about each provider-patient interaction, patient medical charts and health records. No whiteboards or paper charts needed. 

Small Changes, Significant Impact

Understandably, healthcare leaders may be skeptical about investing in patient room renovations and tech they’re unsure will yield a return on investment. Those who doubt the impact of seemingly simple changes such as in-room digital displays of clinical information must connect the dots linking patient satisfaction to profit.

The Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems Survey (HCAHPS) was created by CMS and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) and is commonly used to determine patient satisfaction in a quantitative manner. The survey’s results have consistently provided useful feedback for healthcare leaders, helping determine internal priorities and how they stacked up to their competition, but the ACA upped the ante in 2012 when it tied HCAHPS scores to reimbursement. 

Hospitals are now rewarded for providing high quality care, and patients, approaching their care from an increasingly savvy consumer mindset, are using published scores to help decide where to receive their care. Better experiences equal happy patients, positive feedback, higher survey scores and increased patient volume. A higher number of services rendered means more dollars in the door.

Full Circle

In addition to Mission Health, which also considered the importance of environmental factors including natural light and noise reduction’s role in helping patients heal, countless healthcare organizations have used design thinking to problem solve and ultimately improve the patient experience. 

“Healthcare organisations and clinicians must be open to new roles and care delivery processes in the future,” said Ian Chuang, MD, MS, CCFP, Chief Medical Officer, EMEALAAP Health at Elsevier. “I would encourage them to have an open dialogue and approach any solution from the inside out, applying human-centered design thinking. Otherwise, any new solution will always be constrained by a “box” defined by external forces and legacy thinking. The future solution will never be truly innovative.”

Unlike traditional approaches to problem solving, design thinkers take great efforts to understand patients and their experiences before coming up with solutions. The model is as follows:

  • Empathize: Understand what and for whom you are designing. In this phase of the process, it is important to listen openly and understand where problems lie.
  • Define: This can take a while to accomplish, as it is the crux of the design process. What exactly is the problem that you are trying to solve? Have you identified it correctly?
  • Ideate: Think outside the box; come up with all possible and impossible answers for your defined problem.
  • Prototype: Create an actual 3D representation of your solution. Use whatever materials you have and get creative!
  • Test: Go back to the users and stakeholders to see if this is actually the solution to their problem. It may not be, or you may have defined the problem incorrectly. If so, start the cycle over.

Change can be daunting, but as we’ve highlighted, it doesn’t have to be complicated to be effective. Regardless of where your organization is in its journey, our Elements of Simple series is a straightforward playbook for your path to digital transformation.

As Healthcare Technology Solutions (HTS) president at emids, Kumar Kolin focuses on strategic initiatives, growth and research and development. Kolin leads the Innovation Team by serving as executive leader of Cloud Engineering. With over 25 years of success managing and leading high-performance technology teams, he served as Technology Partner, Deputy CIO and Digital Innovation Leader at industry giant Deloitte. Kolin is also founder and CEO of cloudx, a company designed to create an integrated partnership of domain, design and engineering constructed to reboot how technology services are delivered. Be sure to connect with Kumar on LinkedIn.

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