Design Thinking to Improve Patient Experience

Design thinking is defined as a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success. Industries such as consumer goods, automobile etc  have been quick to adopt this technique but healthcare has not. In my opinion there are many applications of design thinking in the healthcare sector and one area stands out – to shape patient experience. Patient experience has been a largely ignored area so far. But healthcare organizations now understand that delivering positive patient experience is no longer a choice but a necessity to successfully operate in the changing regulatory environment. And for organizations to be/become truly patient centric they need to walk in patients’ shoes’ before offering them a service. This is where design thinking approach can offer value.

Quality-Patient-CareFor example, I have always dreaded going to dentists’ clinic. The stinging pain, the nauseating smell, the overall discomfort of the experience makes the situation worse. But recently I found a dentist whose service pleasantly surprised me. The experience was nothing short of stellar. What was the reason? In retrospect, very simple things. The clinic was perfectly lit with warm lights. There was soothing music that was played in the background that helped me divert my mind while the doctor was working on me. The wires of the equipment were perfectly placed, rarely interrupting my dentist’s work. It was one of those wow patient experiences, something that made me look forward to my next appointment.

What I experienced above was design thinking at play. What design thinking does is enables you to empathize with your patients by picturing yourself in their position and then creating services/products to match expectations. Another example I can think of is that of Mayo clinic. The organization is one of the pioneers in adopting the concept to improve service delivery. They renovated (after nearly 100 years) their exam rooms using design thinking approach. The new Jack and Jill rooms that separates the exam room from conversation room was developed using design thinking methodology. It didn’t require any major breakthrough to understand what patients (and doctors) would appreciate to come up with Jack and Jill rooms. It merely needed an empathetic attitude to identify pain points and then address them. The result: patients love the new concept. They now feel that their needs are actually influencing the way healthcare is delivered.

Design thinking is one crucial tool for healthcare organizations to truly connect with patients. In order to positively shape patient experience and therefore increase patient loyalty, one cannot afford to ignore it.