The Power of Design Thinking in Healthcare's Digital Era

Sutherland Editorial

Having discussed the role of analytics in our last post (Leveraging Analytics in Healthcare’s Digital Era) we’d like to devote this post – the third in our five-part series on healthcare’s digital future – to the role that design thinking can play in adapting to healthcare’s digital age.

As our first post in this series (The Direction of Healthcare’s Digital Future) highlighted, providing an exceptional experience is the key to success in the digital age. And despite volatility in the regulatory landscape, the market forces driving this trend are not going away. Value-based reimbursement continues to account for an increasing percentage of healthcare dollars, patient churn between health plans and providers remains the norm, and the influx of both healthcare related data and the means for patients and members to access that data continues to rise.

In light of this, the value of design thinking can’t be overestimated; market forces are driving customers to seek the best experience, and design thinking helps put you into your customers’ and employees’ shoes so you know what they need and when they need it.

With this being said, let’s look at some of the ways that design thinking can help health plans and providers alike offer the user-friendly, outcomes-oriented experiences that their patients, members, and employees demand in today’s value-driven healthcare world. Specifically, let’s look at journey mapping and the creation of member and patient personas.

Journey Mapping

By allowing health plans and providers to take a holistic view of their members’ and their patients’ entire healthcare journey — from the time before a healthcare access entry point is chosen, all the way through post-acute placement and beyond — journey mapping enhances the consumer’s experience while containing costs and improving healthcare outcomes.

And since the number of healthcare delivery options available to consumers is growing every day, the need to effectively engage consumers at and even before healthcare decision points arrive is critical. But you can only do that if you fully understand their interactions with all aspects of the healthcare experience; both the positive experiences and the pain points. Effective journey mapping allows this to happen.

From tracking how easy or difficult it is to sign up for a plan, to measuring the challenges faced when choosing a facility for treatment, and from evaluating the ease of on-site signage to assessing the effectiveness of post-treatment communications, journey mapping provides a 360-degree view of the whole experience. You can use the insight gained in the journey mapping process to transform your outreach, intake, and post-care processes.

The value of streamlining processes, easing patient and member interactions, and supporting outcome improvement — all while increasing customer loyalty — is key to thriving in the digital health era. Now that consumers can explore alternative health plan and provider options with the click of a keypad or the tap of a finger on their smartphone’s screen, a quality experience must be delivered every time an interaction takes place.

In fact, research shows that an estimated 52-77% of patients would consider changing their clinical provider based upon non-clinical factors (Source: Becker’s Hospital Review). A purely clinical understanding of the patient or member experience is no longer enough to ensure long-term success.

Customer Persona Creation

While journey mapping offers a 360-degree view of the customer experience, the creation of personas offers a more granular and nuanced view into the experiences of specific patient and member populations. By gathering and segmenting information from all available sources — everything from claims data to the data in electronic health records (EHRs) as well as demographic, geographic, and socio-economic data — health plans and providers can put themselves not only into the shoes of a health consumer, but into the experience of specific user groups.

Is one demographic group more likely to respond to telephone outreach than to outreach by text or email? Would a particular segment of your customer base benefit from a directed wellness campaign? Are multiple outreach efforts needed for your population? Answering these questions — through the analysis of data that is already available as well as through interviews and direct consumer consultation — allows industry stakeholders to target and enhance their experience strategy.

Armed with a holistic but granular view of the health consumer’s information access capabilities and key decision influencers ensures that the experience enhancement choices you make produce the results you want. For instance, a personalized online health portal that offers access to billing, clinical, and health history information is only as valuable as the percentage of a population that chooses — or is able — to use it. Demographically specific persona creation might indicate that to reach the highest possible percentage of a customer base for that portal should be accompanied by outreach via telephone or mail.

Similarly, you might discover that the rise of consumerism, as well as growing member and patient churn, is rendering traditional prospective outreach efforts less effective. It might be time to engage in a campaign designed to foster inbound prospective communications.

Putting It All Together

So how does an organization like Sutherland deploy the full power of design thinking to help organizations enhance the customer experience? Simple, we partner with our clients to design a holistic, consumer-centric analysis of their existing touch points. Then we develop specific solutions with measureable outcomes to enhance the ways that patients, members, and end-users experience the services they provide. Finally, we deliver that solution in a way that positions our clients to offer an exceptional experience and thrive in the digital health era.

You can find out more about the particulars of design thinking in the digital age here. Or you can read about how Virtua Health, a successful hospital chain in New Jersey, leveraged Sutherland’s experience expertise to design, develop, and deliver enhanced communication, increased transparency around healthcare options, and improved facility design to their patients and employees.

Want to learn more about how Sutherland can help you harness the power of design thinking to transform your operations? Contact us at

Up next in our series? The Direction of Digital Healthcare, part 4: the power of automation.