by Peter B. Nichol

Design thinking for healthcare

May 02, 2016
Health and Fitness SoftwareHealthcare IndustryInnovation

Digital technology designers and business design architects have shifted from designing physical objects or services to designing our interactions with them.

Design thinking creates great innovations by imagining new approaches to organizational creativity. It does this by designing for value.

Industrial design to design thinking

The Stanford University, catapulted design thinking into the mainstream when they first introduced the concept as a formal method taught to engineering students in 2005. The organic roots of design thinking go back further and lead us to Harold Van Doren, that wrote the book Industrial Design: A Practical Guide published in 1940. Van Doren described the need for industrial parts to lift off the paper and take the form of three-dimensional, not two-dimensional clay models. He expands by saying, as designers use the clay they gain more experience than designers that depend only on paper and pencil. Van Doren, of course, is talking about the value of interactions and experiences. A bit comical that the concept was “discovered” a mere sixty-five years later at Stanford. Van Doren outlined five key steps in this process he called, an “integrated design program” including:

  1. Understand the clay or wax studies (research)
  2. Draft a rough dimensioned layout
  3. Present the model
  4. Full-size dummy ~model or mock-up; prepared by the client from drawings supplied by the designer
  5. Full-size working model; prepared by the client and made in metal or other final materials

Several parallels exist between this initial model and the future Stanford design thinking process, which will be evident as we cover the Stanford design thinking approach.

Designing physical projects or services

Fast forwarding seventy years, the Institute of Design at Stanford or uses framework surprisingly similar to Van Doren’s. The prepares future innovators to use design thinking to inspire multidisciplinary teams to foster radical collaboration. The central theme is using prototyping to discover new solutions. The theory behind design thinking is that “to create meaningful innovations you need to know your users and care about their lives.” This theory aligns well with the Doblin Innovation Model, described in the book Ten Types of Innovation: The Discipline of Building Breakthroughs, which outlines the ten types of innovation: 1. Profit model, 2. Network, 3. Structure, 4. Process 5. Product performance, 6. Product system, 7. Service, 8. Channel, 9. Brand, and 10. Customer engagement. The Doblin Innovation Model explains that most companies look for innovation between “product performance” and the “product system,” but that the biggest opportunities are anchored in the “profit model” or within “customer engagement” innovation.

The Stanford process for design thinking defines design thinking for innovation as a discipline managed with the following steps:

  1. Empathize
  2. Define
  3. Ideate
  4. Prototype
  5. Test

Stanford’s five step process uncovers the value of design thinking – finding simplicity in complexity.

Stanford’s design thinking approach

What if we could transform the experience of healthcare treatment with a patient-centered focused approach? Design thinking holds the promise of patient-centered interactions in healthcare.

The first step of design thinking is empathizing, a focal point in design thinking where you observe, engage, and watch and listen. This step solves “why” patients do things while more deeply understanding their physical and emotional needs. It’s about discovering what is meaningful to them. The second step is clearly defining the problem. The only way to create the right solution is by framing the right problem. Ideating steps beyond obvious solutions and increasing the innovation potential, by harnessing a collective perspective. Fresh team members and participants collaborate to uncover unexpected areas for exploration, driving teams beyond the present solutions.

We have ideated on the problem which is now clear; it’s time to start the conversation with prototyping. This step begins by decomposing large problems into smaller and more testable chunks. We have all heard the saying, a picture is worth a hundred words. Well, if a picture is worth a hundred words, then a prototype is worth a thousand pictures. It’s here that we build the experience and play out the previously identified interactions.

Creation breeds ownership and at this point the team actively works through ideas: failing quickly and cheaply is encouraged. Ultimately, the team comes together to determine if the experience initially envisioned is going to work. The last step is testing that gives the patient a chance to experience the interactions. Interactions allow designers to learn more about the patient. The prototypes and solutions are refined and form the basis of future prototype iterations. We ask users to compare their perspectives while being engaged in creating experiences. There is no more talk about the experience; the patient is experiencing it. How are they interacting? How do they feel? What questions do patients have? When design thinking is applied to healthcare, it transforms innovative ideas into practical solutions that change how patients receive care.

For an uncomplicated view, the process has been described in a linear progression. In practice, these steps can be executed in various orders depending on your methods, style, and the patients involved.

Mayo Clinic case study

The Mayo Clinic has embraced design thinking in their Center for Innovation (CFI), that is located on the 16th floor of the Gonda and Mayo buildings. This incubator designs clinical experiences that meet patients’ needs. The in-house lab also has a Design Research Studio to observe patients, interview families, and conduct general research. This incubator is a place where patients can see their needs, shaping the future of care delivery. Design thinking is a key differentiator for Mayo that fuels innovation.

How do you create a collaborative environment, out of exam rooms that haven’t changed in 100 years? Design thinking at the Mayo Clinic created the Jack and Jill rooms to solve this problem, by separating the exam room from the conversation space. Using a human-centered focus and design methods such as ethnographic and observation techniques, visualization, prototyping, sketching, storytelling, and brainstorming, the Mayo Clinic has improved physician and patient interactions.

How might we re-educate society about healthcare? How might we massively simplify the experience of care? It starts by turning innovative ideas into practical solutions that change how patients receive care. Design thinking has the potential to redesign the care experience.