Healthcare is the most over-regulated and under-designed industry in the world. We require a framework for change and innovation. Design—the tools and protocols of design thinking—provides that framework.

“Design thinking uses creative activities to foster collaboration and solve problems in human-centered ways. Design thinking leads to creative confidence. Creative confidence is the belief that everyone is creative, and that creativity isn’t the ability to draw or compose or sculpt, but a way of understanding the world.” David Kelley, founder of IDEO

If you conduct a quick search on “design thinking,” you’ll most likely read discussions about prototyping and collaborating, and you’ll find success stories about how businesses and global nonprofits utilize design for instrumental change. You probably won’t see a lot about the use of design thinking in healthcare, but this is changing.

As with ethnography, the patient and virtually any stakeholder in the healthcare transaction is the expert in design thinking. Multiple stakeholder involvement is more than ideal—it’s essential. We can think of it as a fancy name for problem-solving and brainstorming, but it deserves any bit of grandeur we assign it. Anthropology in combination with design thinking is the perfect solution for a patient-centered approach in healthcare marketing and design strategy.

So, what is design thinking (in healthcare)?

“Design thinking in healthcare strategy is not about architecture, graphics, the fragmental use of ads, logos, or social media. Rather, it’s about understanding and exploring how a brand interacts with their customers and empowers them to a higher level of competency. Simply stated, design thinking is innovative problem-solving that focuses on the value a solution will provide all stakeholders—patients, caregivers, staff, and the community at large. In healthcare, this requires a deep understanding of the human condition—which is why it pairs well with ethnography.” David McDonald, CEO and co-founder of LIFT

How to think of design (in healthcare)

Think of design thinking in healthcare as a framework for strategy, change, and innovation.

Healthcare design thinking is the only toolset you need to champion innovation across your organization—it offers an inclusive multi-stakeholder toolset that fuels creativity and empowers collaboration . Design thinking provides a framework for exploring the challenges you are facing as a healthcare professional.

We are facing tremendous change in the healthcare industry. Executives would be smart to leverage a framework for impactful innovation and strategy. Without design thinking, you may well be rudderless in your attempt to implement at scale.

Innovation and problem solving can not be all about what doctors or staff want. Rather innovation and strategy in the 21st century should be all about what your patients and community at large want. Design thinking will lower barriers and open doors to a fresh and purposeful culture of innovation that champions human engagement; education; empowerment; and that cultivates a more competent patient, caregiver, clinician, or internal stakeholder.

Without design thinking we are at a disadvantage:

  • Redundant effort: Without design, we cannot streamline processes and practices nor make the best use of our resources. We can not take every opportunity as a chance to learn and evolve our approach and ourselves. We work within silos and do not share knowledge and best practices amongst interdisciplinary teams.
  • Fragmental view of experience: Without design, we select where we place our attention and do not step back and see the big picture or embrace new ways of seeing a situation. We think apps and way-finding will change an experience and lose sight of the human-to-human connection–stopping at HCAHPS and going no further.
  • Lack of forward-thinking vision: Without design, we our approach will not be strategically unified, but rather piecemeal with an unknown trajectory. We are ‘throwing in the dark’ without an evidence-based approach or a unified culture committed to excellence. Our teams function as separate entities and our mission, vision and values are a dusty plaque on the wall.
  • Comfort and safety (at the cost of innovation): Without design, we rely on what we “know” to be true and become marinated in the conventional wisdom of the past—resorting to our comfort zones. We do not take risks or have the energy to embrace challenge.
  • Solutions first, people second: Without design, we assume we know what people need and want, putting our own expertise and ourselves first. We choose easy over effective: putting up a billboard instead of building relationships. We lack empathy and cultural understanding. We force fit technology-based solutions and assume its adoption.
  • Context, understanding, empathy: Without design, we lack a deep contextual understanding of who we are as a healthcare system and the consumers we serve. We miss important inputs from diverse stakeholder teams and find ourselves in an echo chamber.

Above all, without design we have no bedrock for innovation and change… we lack a framework for purposeful innovation and human centered strategy.

Do this:

Ask yourself, are you reaching the people you need to be reaching? Are you satisfied with yourself or do you seek to demand more of yourself and those around you? We shouldn’t look at who we are already reaching and pat ourselves on the back, but rather, we must ask ourselves: who are we failing to connect with? Whose language do we not speak? What values are we overlooking?

So, whats the point?

We can be punitive and judgmental, jumping to conclusions to avoid discomfort, challenge, and the ambiguous nature of ‘not knowing’—or we can invest in building meaningful relationships with the communities we serve.

Without design we cease to grow—as individuals, as professionals, and as an industry as a whole. Healthcare without design is not a viable option. The voice of your organization and the experience of the communities you serve deserve an  approach to strategy and messaging that champions the very reality of the humans you seek to empower.

Without design: We are stagnant, unimaginative, disconnected, and misguided.

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