Design Thinking in Healthcare

Design Thinking, at its core, is a creative process to solve everyday problems with a human-centered approach. While the word ‘creative’ may sound like something do only with designers/artists, the good news is- it’s not. Anyone can implement design thinking. The only thing that you really need is- listen to your customers as people who need your help. Once you understand their needs, their hopes, their fears and the friction they face while dealing with a particular problem- Bang! You are halfway through it.

Let’s hear a story. The story is about a woman named Elisa (yeah! I made that pseudonym). Elisa is an eighty-one-year-old woman suffering from age-related macular degeneration (AMD). When she was told she needs to take an injection in the eye for treatment, she was petrified. And why wouldn’t she? It’s not just any injection on the skin, it’s a needle in the eye. At the age when you are struggling with survival, it’s terrifying to think of ways in which you can go blind.

Why Design Thinking in Healthcare Matters

Apart from this particular case, it’s a fact that many of us dread getting an injection. Diabetic patients go through this painful experience, every day. Sometimes they have to administer these injections themselves, and sometimes they have to deal with a less skilled, less empathetic nurse.

Don’t you think we need a better solution to this? Can’t we develop something which makes this experience less scary? Can we go that extra mile and feel the pain of these patients? Can we somehow make them suffer less than they are already suffering?

An organization called Portal Instruments has now challenged this 160-year-old needle & syringe technology with design thinking. They have created a needle-free computerized injection system which fires a jet of liquid into the human skin. The handheld, low-cost unit is highly precise and accurate. The device is easy to use and its digital health features empower the patients to holistically manage their chronic condition interactively.

Design, particularly in healthcare, is about efficiency, usability, and a better user experience for patients as well as medical practitioners. And Design Thinking is a very powerful approach to solve customer’s problems. So where can you apply design thinking in healthcare?

Design Thinking in Patient Care

How Healthcare Organizations Can Start to Use Design Thinking | PreCheck

Patient care is not just about exchanging pleasantries and moving ahead with the treatment. When you apply Design thinking to this process, you will uncover ways in which care goes beyond the treatment.
A customer empathy map will help you understand your patient’s pain, concerns, fears and go beyond the clinical treatment. For instance, simply by listening to the concerns of expectant mothers, you can help them ease their anxiety. After quality research & brainstorming viable solutions, you can arrive at a proposed solution to help them be better informed about the labor process.

Design Thinking in Clinical Experience

Memorize the last time you were sitting in the emergency-room and recollect your waiting experience. Wait times are difficult to pass. You are in a troubled state of mind. Patients and their families spend a considerable amount of time in waiting rooms, sometimes waiting to be treated and other times waiting to see the doctor.

Design thinking may bring forth innovative ways of helping patients feel comfortable and make their experience bearable. You can start by asking questions and understanding their mindset. Must the patient be left alone while they wait for care? Is there a better way in which family wait time can be utilized? If you can not reduce the wait time, think of ways to utilize it. Once you answer these questions, you’ll be able to elevate the user experience of your users.

Design Thinking in Websites

If you are building a healthcare app/website, then you have to take care of the reliability and accuracy of the information that you provide. A person’s medical records can be critical information while monitoring health patterns or detecting disease symptoms.
Prioritize the most important information & fields for your users. Boil down to basics. Take all age groups into account and design keeping in mind their ailments.
They (might) want more information with less number of clicks, they (might) wish for larger and readable fonts. And while you may get away with frequent ‘small’ updates on social media apps, here it (might) frustrate them.

How to design a great Healthcare Experience

You know why every superhero is veiled behind a mask? Because creators of comic heroes want you to believe that even superheroes are like any other human. Their only superpower is endurance and resilience. They understand people; they want to solve their problems. They put people before anything else.
Much like Spidey! Or Batman.

Design thinking is same. It’s about organizing those mindful scattered ideas that everybody forgot to care about. Design thinking is about subtle differences which make you outshine from the ordinary. Yet it’s not so easy to put yourself in some else’s shoes. It takes a lot of efforts in brainstorming and generating ideas. Then, you should quickly pivot on a prototype and gather user feedback for continuous improvements.

Design thinking has already made it to healthcare. But, as we all are aware of the sad state of product design and innovation in Healthcare, there are still areas where it remains underused, such as patient transportation, the communication gap between doctors and patients, to name just a few. Here’s one approach that might be useful to you-

Research and define the problem statement

If you are dealing in the food business, wouldn’t you start talking to the farmers? So, start with conversations. Talk to patients/families about their problems.
Build customer personas. A persona is an imaginary character that embodies your real customer. Learn about your user’s lifestyle, their goals, their values, the challenges they face. Empathize with your users & their problems.
If you are designing an online appointment experience, you need to involve every single person associated. Right from the doctor to the patient. Even the receptionist. You need to understand their roles and most importantly, where they fit in together. Once you understand their pain points, then you’ll be able to create the experience for patients who need care.


Design Thinking in Healthcare – IDEO U

Enough talking! Time for some action. Gather all that you have talked and use the outcome of Research phase to generate interesting ideas. Not all ideas will be usable; so try and stay close to ‘potential solutions’. Use techniques like high-level drawings, user-mapping and plot a user’s experience map to arrive at innovative solutions.
For instance, while building a SaaS-based mobile engagement platform for one of our client, our design team took conscious efforts to understand the whole journey- health plan benefits, treatment requirements, appointment details, communication medium, medication instructions etc.

Putting down our ideas on paper helped us a lot in working on user workflows. We were able to visualize a smarter workflow which connects with patients through mobile messaging for more effective communication.

Prototype and iterate

Giving your ideas a shape is crucial to the design thinking process. Otherwise, it will just be castles in the air. Prototyping is something that pushes you into making things tangible so that you keep moving forward.
Prototypes will be a proof of concept of your ‘ideation exercises’. They will help you in demonstrating and validating your concepts and understanding. Moreover, they are important because you would want to test your functionalities in a real environment with real users.

Prototypes need not be beautiful. It can be a black and white template of your colorful understanding. It must answer a simple question- as simple as “How would you like to reach out to your members?”

Depending on your application (web/mobile), prototypes can be interactive or static. What really matters is that they must convey the user experience flow.

The advantage of building a prototype is that it’s something substantial and not just some thought process going on in our mind. Once you have pushed that into a real environment, you can take feedback from users and iterate to simplify functionalities.

Designing for healthcare won’t be a joyride. Unlike social media apps like Snapchat, your healthcare platform will grow slowly. And that’s not your mistake. The user base that you are catering to, is not looking for socializing or entertainment. So the only solution lies in applying design thinking to approach problems.

Before aiming for success, first, offer a service that’s valuable. Offer a service that solves a real problem. Offer a service which makes them forget that they are interacting with a machine.
Let’s build a better healthcare experience. Let’s be more human.


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<b><strong>Karan Makan</strong></b>

Karan Makan

Technology Engineer and Entrepreneur. Currently working with International Clients and helping them scale their products through different ventures. With over 8 years of experience and strong background in Internet Product Management, Growth & Business Strategy.

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