What does it take to make healthcare patient-centered?

This was a question we answered on a project to reimagine women’s health services from the patients’ perspective. Through the experience, one in which we leveraged research and design, we learned five lessons that helped us create patient-centered healthcare.

Patients and hospitals don’t approach health in the same way

In our effort to reimagine women’s health services, we had to balance the vision of the hospital with the needs of the patients.

For providers and staff, it’s easy to define women’s health—it’s obstetrics, gynecology, mammography, bone density testing, oncology, etc., each of which are distinct and have their own procedures and requirements. For the patient, women’s health is much more complex—it’s a journey that spans childbearing through wellbeing and intersects with the everyday.

The end result is a hospital thinks of health as distinct and individual services; a patient thinks of health as a continuous experience. This difference created a disconnect in the framing of marketing messages. We learned that only by recognizing this fact and correcting for it that we were able to craft a patient-centered message.

Patient-centered is a “misnomer”

In order to create patient-centered marketing, we went to the source, the patients. Part of the process was immersing ourselves in the community, getting a first-hand look at who our patients are. However, as we started to immerse ourselves in the community, we learned that the word “patient” was a misnomer.

Patients are diverse, and each of them have their needs. In our research, we met people from different walks of life, age, background: a young student recovering from drug addiction; a mother of three living and working at the farm; an elderly volunteer at a local church who enjoys her retirement.

Each of them, and many others, have their own needs and values. In order to create a truly patient-centered message, it was important our solution be flexible and comprehensive to cover the needs of the community.

Don’t disregard the perspectives of the providers

Although it was tempting to focus entirely on the perspectives of patients, we learned to value conversations with providers as we set about building a patient-centered service line.

While we spent a great deal of time immersing ourselves in the community, we also encouraged internal stakeholders—nurses, doctors, administrators, and others—to share their perspectives and suggestions. From these conversations, we compiled a collection of stories, beliefs, and values that we then shared back with the hospital team.

The insights collected from the internal stakeholders became helpful when we started crafting marketing material. By taking inspiration from the staff’s stories and values, we had a much easier time crafting an authentic voice for the marketing message, which in turn contributed to improve the overall service line experience.

Build an environment to embrace the ambiguity and leverage effective communication

Even after we gathered insights from both patients and staff, we still had to deal with many unknowns. How do we incorporate patient needs, provider values, health outcomes, and marketing objectives into a single package? Through what channels do we distribute the message? And just what is this going to look like anyways?

Answering those questions proved challenging. Because we were taking a patient-centered approach, we were given some freedom with the final product. However, with this freedom also came ambiguity. We learned very quickly that in order to create something great, we must embrace the ambiguity of the experience.

We tackled that ambiguity by building an environment that allowed us to communicate more effectively. In “design studio,” we displayed all of our ethnographic insights and ideas on the walls. There, people were free to share their ideas without judgment and let their creativity run wild. Because we had a dedicated working space, we shared information freely and quickly; everyone remained on the same page.

Respecting people gets you there

At the end of the day, we found that throughout the experience, the one guiding force was the human-centered mindset we took. We remained focused on the people involved, whether they were community members or hospital staff.

By immersing ourselves in the communities, we learned about patients as people. By involving the providers, we understood the values of the hospital. By building a dedicated “design studio,” we shared our findings and collaborated creatively. Through it all, we helped bridge the gap between patients and the hospital.

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