Design thinking is a human-centric, interdisciplinary and test-driven approach to problem solving. Healthcare institutions applying this problem-solving approach can shed new light unto the current processes in healthcare operations and improve end-to-end processes.

Ultimately, patients stand to benefit the most from the improved processes, because their overall experience while seeking medical care is of critical importance to their well-being. Below describes the design thinking approach, which comprises three key elements — Empathise, Ideate and Prototype.

1) Empathise

To improve the patient’s experience, the first step is to understand their needs. Some of these needs are not immediately obvious, and conducting research with an established methodology will help healthcare professionals to better identify underlying issues and advance their care. One method to collect such data is for a team of medical staff to conduct surveys and focus group discussions with a group of patients and their families. The team should ask questions that can elicit the patient’s views on their experience, such as their expectations of the experience in healthcare institutions, their key needs when they visit a healthcare institution, and examples of happy or upsetting experiences at a healthcare institution.

The team should also extract information that is indirectly related to the patient’s need for medical care during the discussions, as these details are usually not reflected by patients in surveys e.g. does not want to wait too long for consultation, going home to rest. These details will allow the team to simulate the experience as a patient and enable the team to validate the patient’s experience from the research and obtain a better idea of the patient’s viewpoint.

Alternatively, the team can also conduct observational studies, where they observe patient behaviours and their reactions to different processes in the hospital. The team will need to properly document every response during their observations, so as to identify a pattern and possible problem, thus work towards a solution.

2) Ideate

After identifying the needs from their research, the next step is to “Ideate”, which means to generate as many ideas as possible that will meet those needs. Team members could brainstorm individually at first, to increase the pool of ideas. Following that, the team can come together to build, iterate and enhance the ideas that seem most feasible to implement. Such discussions and exchange of ideas and views are where novel solutions can be generated.

An easy way to organise the discussion would be to use a 2x2 matrix. In this matrix, the patients’ top two needs are listed in the two columns, the overall benefits listed in the first row and the cost in the second row. The team can then use post-it notes to scribble suggestions or possible solutions to meet the needs, and paste it in the appropriate spaces provided. This helps in the generation and prioritisation of the ideas of the team.

3) Prototype

Based on the prioritisation matrix, the team can then select a plausible idea for a prototype and run a pilot test in the hospital. This is an important step for the team to gather feedback from patients and to test if the idea is able to meet their needs in terms of patient experience.

The beauty of the Design Thinking process is that it allows for reiteration. Hence, a low cost and low value prototype can first be developed and tested multiple times, refining it from the feedbacks each test before investing heavily for the final implementation.

While applying this user-centric methodology, it is critical for the team to be open-minded; — they should not take the feedback provided negatively, but instead think of it as an opportunity to enhance the facility’s operations.

In applying design thinking to the healthcare institution, the key is to freely engage in the exploratory process and to discover insights that can help the team to redefine or rethink their assumptions. Healthcare institutions can consider applying this approach to improve their end-to-end process in their operations, eventually seeing an increase in patient’s experience and better outcomes. MIMS

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