Design Thinking and Healthcare: Rethinking the Future?

Design thinking refers to a mode of conceptualizing and strategizing that focuses on user experience and rapid iteration – what the Harvard Business Review refers to as “rapid prototyping.”

Many observers believe that design thinking, because of its focus on the end user and on reiterated experiments, has great potential to help in rethinking business strategy and practices in the healthcare sector. The result could be improved outcomes and decreased costs.

A Team to Help with Missed Appointments?

It’s known, for example, that 1.6 million people miss or delay medical appointments every year in the U.S. The cost of these appointments is heavy, both in potential delay or complications of medical treatment and in the administrative toll on offices and clinics.

A clinical lens might cause healthcare practitioners to see in missed or delayed appointments patient inattentiveness, lack of information, lack of retention, or even lack of commitment.

A recent Harvard Business Review article, however, points out that patients may miss appointments for many reasons, including those related to the very illness they need to be treated for. Patients with chronic pain, mobility issues, and lack of reliable transport, for instance, may find the simple conveyance to a doctor’s office almost insurmountably difficult. Not only is mobility an issue in getting in a vehicle, but security a vehicle, for those who don’t have a car or other transportation, can be both challenging and embarrassing.

In addition, large academic medical centers can be difficult to navigate even once arrived at for those with chronic pain or mobility challenges.

But with design thinking, these patient challenges can be accessed from the patient’s point of view. Would a team dedicated to transportation work? A point person to set it up? Assistance once arrived at the medical center?

These questions, in their multiplicity and variety, are examples of design thinking. Usual appointment reminders are calls and cards. But what if that’s not the issue? Design thinking spurs other questions. What does the patient need? Who or what might provide it? When is it needed?

Design thinking can facilitate patients being able to make doctor’s appointments for needed tests.

Developing an Optimal Funnel

Forbes points out that design thinking can help healthcare practitioners re-envision their office practices. Traditionally, for example, patients are funneled to clinicians’ offices via waiting rooms and a reception desk.

A line for check-in and potential lengthy waiting times, though, can be onerous for low-income patients, who often must travel significant distances and lose time from work to obtain healthcare.

With patient considerations in mind, one clinic in southern California is rethinking whether these methods can be replaced. Would a roving greeter with a tablet be able to greet people individually rather than having them enter a waiting room? Would more convenience spur greater utilization of the healthcare system?

These initial questions first, rethink the entire idea of who is mobile in a space. In the traditional framework, the patient is the mobile unit. The office is stationary. But might certain areas of an office work better if they are mobile, serving a relatively stationary patient?

These questions and others can foster innovation in the healthcare sector’s business leadership, to ensure that patients maintain steady and optimal contact with the healthcare system. Better care can only follow.