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.

Ideal Patient for Patient Engagement

“If patient engagement were a drug it would be the blockbuster drug of the century”.

Leonard Kish, Healthcare IT Consultant

It has been generally accepted that healthcare is a complex business and treatment is best left in the hands of professionals. Historically a patient played a more passive role in the delivery system, letting specialists make most of the decisions for them. But latest research has proven that a more engaged patient receives better quality healthcare and also incurs lower costs. Given these benefits, some experts have touted patient engagement as the block buster drug of the century.

So where do we start to reap full benefits of patient engagement? Of course, with the patients.  While it is essential for all the stakeholders to support patient engagement efforts, much of the responsibility lies on patient’s shoulder to drive the success of such initiatives. It requires deliberate, focused and consistent efforts that entail critical cultural and behavioural changes from patients’ end.  So what qualities make a candidate ideally suited for patient engagement?Here’s what I think are the top three:

Receptive to Education: When it comes to something as serious as healthcare one cannot afford to make our decisions on wrong or partial information. Health literacy is critical for patients and having a mind-set that is receptive to learn is crucial for effective participation.

Ready to Take Control and Act: Once the patient has access to information, acting on it is crucial. Creating a personal health plan, tracking personal health information, involving other caregivers & family members are some of the measures that an engaged patient ought to take.

Open to Share: It turns out that inspiring someone else to choose an apple instead of an ice-cream, has a greater overall benefit that simply receiving a benefit yourself. A more engaged patient has the power to influence a wider audience which can lead to a healthier population in general.

In essence, an ideal patient for patient engagement transforms from “Someone should tell me what to do” to “I need to self-direct my healthcare” mentality. And only when this is achieved we can realize the true potential of THE blockbuster drug of the century.

Quotable Quotes

I am a quotes person, have always been one. As a 10-year old I covered the wall of my room with quotes. Even today I maintain a diary of quotes that I refer to every now and then. Quotes inspire, guide and motivate me.

I am constantly looking for words of wisdom in the business arena as well.In this post I tried to curate a list of some healthcare quotes that resonated with me and have made me think.

Here are some of my favourites:

“Betterment is perpetual labour. The world is chaotic, disorganized, and vexing, and medicine is nowhere spared that reality. To complicate matters, we in medicine are also only human ourselves. We are distractible, weak, and given to our own concerns. Yet still, to live as a doctor is to live so that one’s life is bound up in others’ and in science and in the messy, complicated connection between the two It is to live a life of responsibility. The question then, is not whether one accepts the responsibility. Just by doing this work, one has. The question is, having accepted the responsibility, how one does such work well.”
― Atul GawandeBetter: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance

“But now I also understand, firsthand, the meaning of what the caregivers who work in that system do every day. They do achieve amazing things, and when it’s your life or your child’s life or your mother’s life on the receiving end of those amazing things, there is no such thing as a runaway cost. You’ll pay anything, and if you don’t have the money, you’ll borrow at any mortgage rate or from any payday lender to come up with the cash. Which is why 60 percent of the nearly one million personal bankruptcies filed in the United States last year resulted from medical bills.”
— Steven Brill (America’s Bitter Pill: Money, Politics, Backroom Deals, and the Fight to Fix Our Broken Healthcare System)

“The Universal Laws of Health Care Systems:

1. “No matter how good the health care in a particular country, people will complain about it”
2. “No matter how much money is spent on health care, the doctors and hospitals will argue that it is not enough”
3. “The last reform always failed”
— T.R. Reid (The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care)

“A recent Economist article on dialysis perfectly illustrates the inflationary impact of cost-plus pricing. Since U.S. clinics are paid on a cost-plus basis, they prefer to use expensive drugs rather than cheaper ones. In fact, many appear to order drugs in units that exceed what a standard dosage requires because they can charge the government for the wastage. Quoting a stock research firm, the article noted that many clinics preferred an injected drug with a price of $4,100 a year over the identical drug in oral form, priced at only $450 a year. Not surprisingly, the manufacturer of the oral drug responded by increasing its price above that of the injected version to make it more competitive!”
― David GoldhillCatastrophic Care: How American Health Care Killed My Father–and How We Can Fix It

“Japan has the oldest population in the world, and the Japanese go to the doctor more than anybody—about fourteen office visits per year, compared with five for the average American. And yet Japan spends about $3,400 per person on health care each year; we burn through $7,400 per person.”
— T.R. Reid (The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care)

“The concept of multivitamins was sold to Americans by an eager nutraceutical industry to generate profits. There was never any scientific data supporting their usage.”
― Paul A. OffitDo You Believe in Magic?: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine

“What is needed, however, isn’t just that people working together be nice to each other. It is discipline. Discipline is hard–harder than trustworthiness and skill and perhaps even than selflessness. We are by nature flawed and inconstant creatures. We can’t even keep from snacking between meals. We are not built for discipline. We are built for novelty and excitement, not for careful attention to detail. Discipline is something we have to work at.”
― Atul GawandeThe Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right

“We’re paying a lot more for everything because we have this naive assumption that healthcare can be a marketplace when everyone of us sitting here knows that when we’re sick, we’re not a savvy consumer of healthcare.” Steven Brill, America’s Toxic Pill

“It drove home to me the reality that in addition to being a tough political issue because of all the money involved, health care is a toxic political issue because of all the fear and the emotion involved.” Steven Brill, America’s Toxic Pill

“Billions of dollars are spent on technology and IT in healthcare, but most of that is for legacy enterprise systems. Very antiquated systems and procedures are in place in healthcare. Technology can change that. This tells me that healthcare is ripe with disruptive potential.”
Aaron Levie, CEO of Box

“Today, however, anti-vaccine activists go out of their way to claim that they are not anti-vaccine; they’re pro-vaccine. They just want vaccines to be safer. This is a much softer, less radical, more tolerable message, allowing them greater access to the media. However, because anti-vaccine activists today define safe as free from side effects such as autism, learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, strokes, heart attacks, and blood clots—conditions that aren’t caused by vaccines—safer vaccines, using their definition, can never be made.”
― Paul A. OffitDeadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All

“A patient in the American health care system has very little leverage, has very little knowledge, has very little power.” Steven Brill, America’s Toxic Pill