One framework that is beginning to demonstrate considerable value as a resource for innovation in patient experience is design thinking, an approach that leverages the creative process to craft solutions for ambiguous challenges and has recently been gaining steam at a global level with proven success in a wide range of industries. This perspective has quite a bit to offer healthcare as well, and it’s easy to find some great literature on the innovative partnerships, impactful accomplishments and deeply empathetic moments that design thinking and healthcare have created together for patients.
Design thinking often brings to mind revolutionary leaps, but it also carries practical value for day-to-day PX innovation. By infusing the principles of design thinking into our daily work, we are able to create a culture that is ripe for wide scale innovation, and build a healthcare practice that is at home with ongoing evolution. To create some inspiration, here are some concrete examples of simple ways that one could put some of these principles into practice.
Walk through your health center and look at things like a patient. Focus less on what they are doing, more on what they are feeling at each step. How much thought has been given to designing their emotional journey through your system? What do the directional signs look like? Are they welcoming, or do they look like warning signs? Are they outdated? What message are they sending?
Also, look up. Staff rarely look at the ceiling, but patients do. How are those ceiling tiles doing? Where in your health center will your patients learn – without talking to anyone - the story of why your staff come to work every day? That they are your priority? That you will offer them the compassionate care they are seeking? Do they learn that when you want them to?
Lastly, how inclusive are the messages in your health center? Who is being left out of the welcome?
Mindful of Process
Do your employees know the full process of the patient experience or just the sliver they interact with? Carve out 30 minutes at your next staff meeting and do a Patient Journey Map with front line staff. It’s a great opportunity for them not only to showcase their knowledge but also to find places they can improve the system, support patients and have empathy for the humans in front of them.
It only takes a whiteboard, markers and supportive, thoughtful questions that challenge thinking, like: “What situation do you think a patient is in when they’re trying to make an appointment?” Or “Ok, now that they’ve taken their clothing off, how cold is the room? The floor?”
There is assumption in design thinking that the solutions to problems of an industry often can often be inspired by studying and collaborating with other fields. What fields have mastered your biggest challenges and have you really looked hard to find the answers to your problems outside medicine? Did you know that Formula 1 pit crews have helped medical teams improve the way they resuscitate newborns? However, the day Doug Dietz lost his MRI scanner to pirates is probably my favorite design thinking PX stories; and so, I will leave you with it as my closer. If you haven’t heard this story yet, please check out his TED talk.
Doug Dietz’s MRI scanner was the most effective he’d ever designed. But children were frightened of the dark, intimidating machine - they were so worried they couldn’t even lay still without “sleepy drops.” When he found this out Doug was upset - he didn’t get into product design to scare kids. And so, one day not long after, his MRI scanner was hijacked by some pirates at IDEO who turned it into a ship – complete with a gangplank. The problem didn’t stop at pirates, either. Another machine sank into the ocean, a third was lost in the woods on the way to the hospital, one accidentally launched into space.
Yet somehow, the staff of University of Pittsburg Hospital didn’t seem upset at all this chaos with their MRI machines, instead encouraging mischief, cranking up music, turning on a bubble-making disco ball, making the place smell like lavender and telling fantastical adventure stories that their littlest patients couldn't help but lie still and listen in fascination to. According to legend, if a patient is completely motionless for a certain time, fish will start to swim by in the magic adventure machine. Underneath all this pretend play, MRI scans are more effective, more accurate and need to be repeated less often than back in the old days when children had to be sedated to undergo these potentially life-saving scans because they so scared of the loud, terrifying MRI machines and gloomy UV lighting.
If that’s not PX innovation, I don’t know what is!
Kelly Makino, MSW is the director of Training and OD with Planned Parenthood of Orange & San Bernardino, based in the greater Los Angeles area. As a former LSW from the New York area, she is passionate about infusing person-centered approaches into healthcare that holistically advance the patient experience, support clinicians in their craft, and improve the systems that support them both. She is a graduate of Georgia State University, University of Pennsylvania, and is working on a doctorate at University of Southern California researching ways to improve communication training outcomes for people in clinical settings.