We are seeing a lot of people are interested in embracing design thinking in 2021. You may have even read our recent blog addressing why you should consider adopting design thinking in 2021. But for many of you, the real obstacle keeping you from adopting design thinking may not be the “why” at all, but rather apprehension caused by another question—”How?”

How can I add another strategic tool when I’m already stretched thin? How can we justify trying something new while we’re still grappling with uncertainty?

Healthcare brands these days are challenged on an almost hourly basis to rethink some aspect of how they conduct the business of nurturing wellbeing and delivering care to the communities they serve. Virtual visits; a high need for patient and caregiver education; an overworked and exhausted staff; and, increasingly limited resources are challenging healthcare executives to rethink important aspects of their business models. And marketers are not immune to these shifting sands.

It’s time to change your approach to marketing.

So things seem a tad more hectic these days—the pandemic is shaking up marketing just as it has shaken up every aspect of your hospital’s operational existence. But think about it, you’ve been playing whack-a-mole since day one!

As healthcare marketing and strategy professionals, we have spent our careers juggling the demands of traditional marketing and advertising strategies with the need to empower consumers to play a more active role in their own health and wellbeing. Marketing is and will always be a craft of moving consumers to take action. And hospital marketers in particular have always had a two-pronged “action imperative”: to grow service line revenues and to empower wellbeing in the community. This past year just amplified your action imperatives!

Rather than think of these new challenges as a curse, think of them as a gift, allowing you to champion a fresh approach to how you conduct your day-to-day. And this gift has a name — design thinking.

Design thinking offers a solid foundation for change.

Design thinking is a combination of human science, collaboration, and innovation—it is the perfect solution to champion change when framing effective marketing strategies within the context of a patient-centered healthcare system. Design and co-creation will help you create better messaging for products and services tailored to the changing demands and associated needs of patients and caregivers.

Design and co-creation will also help you cultivate and champion better relationships amongst the myriad of stakeholders involved in the landscape of healthcare transactions. Design and co-creation offer you a new way of approaching the work you do as a marketer—a job intricately woven into the most important strategies your hospital has had to take on in recent decades.

So how can you champion design thinking into your 2021 strategy?

4 Examples of how you can leverage design thinking into your healthcare marketing practice today.

Think big. Start small. Start. I do not recall where I first heard that phrase, but it is a great way to champion innovation—and more specifically, an active design thinking process—in your hospital’s marketing and patient education practice.

Think Big.

1) Craft a Human Centered Service Line Strategy: A health system in the northeast was faced with the imperative to put a face on their women’s health service line. Above all else, it was critical that they understand the voice and experience of the community they serve, and that they pull that understanding though all communications touch-points. With numerous unique customer cohorts touching this service line, it was imperative that we spend ample time in the field—in this case, the system’s community at-large—to engage in dialogues with internal and external stakeholders. Equipping both LIFT and the system with the proper empathic context, this work eventually led to a design thinking workshop where we created a multi-channel, human-centered marketing communications program.

2) Champion an Empathic Brand Refresh: A rural hospital in Ohio was struggling to understand their internal and external stakeholders. They wanted to align a desire for a new brand identity with the sensibilities of the community they served. They knew that “what was outside the doors of the hospital was what was inside the doors of the hospital” yet, they struggled to understand where the hospital intersected with the community they served. Using qualitative insights gathering and multidisciplinary stakeholder co-creation workshops with the help of LIFT, the hospital was able to unify the internal stakeholder voice with the external stakeholder voice—creating a brand that was harmonious and relatable to their employees as well as the community they care for.

3) Embrace an Experience-Oriented Service Design: A metropolitan children’s hospital was faced with the need to better understand the various stakeholders involved in the urgent care transaction. Using ethnography, LIFT helped our client uncover the lived experiences of the parent (and related familial stakeholders), their intake staff, and clinical staff involved in the urgent care setting. We mapped the journey of each cohort to determine the needs and expectations of various stakeholders involved in the urgent care transaction. Afterwords, using learnings from our research, LIFT hosted a design thinking workshop. In the workshop, we explored current-state problems and related stakeholder needs in an effort to envision future state programs for marketing, education, and service design initiatives.

4) Leverage Telemedicine as a Window into the Lived Experience: Pre-pandemic, telemedicine was hampered by a variety of obstacles that stagnated widespread adoption. The dynamics of COVID-19 of course changes all of that, and accordingly these obstacles began to fall. The fact is, the telemedicine genie is not going back in the bottle, and working collaboratively across the entire hospital system is the only way to manage this tremendous change. Design thinking offers the perfect framework to leverage telemedicine in new and unconventional ways, allowing you to effectively engage with patients and simultaneously gain access to important insight. LIFT is working with numerous healthcare stakeholders to explore opportunities in this arena, while leveraging the principles and protocols of design thinking to rapidly design solutions that capitalize on them.

Start Small.

2021 will surely be a year of change—and if there was ever a year to try something new, I would venture that 2021 is that year. so, get started. Find an agency partner who understands design and find one area to focus—a service line, a patient experience strategy, or a community need that you are charged with meeting. Then, do a little insights gathering. Focus only on that one small area and gather as much stakeholder insights as possible.


At the end of the day, the onus is on you to have the courage to take the leap into design thinking. Fortunately, LIFT is here to help you walk the path.

Related Articles