Design thinking puts humanity first in healthcare

The traditional healthcare industry model and its fee-for-service values are on the way out, as modern healthcare ushers in an era of service with values influenced by empathy.

Design thinking engineers business processes to work smarter and empathetically. It takes into full consideration client needs and experiences to design working processes that promote desired outcomes. HfS Research Executive Vice President of Business Operations, Healthcare and Life Sciences Barbra McGann views design thinking simply as a method to put a person at the core of the way everyone involved thinks and works.

She also believes value in healthcare has shifted from being about a person or insurance company paying for services no matter the outcome to being about healthcare providers paid based on outcomes. That puts more emphasis on the quality and timeliness of services and the impact they generate for the patient, caregiver, physician, pharmacist or community member.

“This move needs to be about bringing humanity to healthcare, which in turn will change the health, medical, and financial outcomes for the better,” she said.

The industry movement toward that goal is underway, but change is rarely easy, especially given the healthcare sector’s challenges.

“The $3 trillion healthcare industry is vast, entrenched, and interconnected to itself and society in a way that makes it a different animal from most other industries,” Inc. magazine reported in September 2017. “This is especially true when it comes to innovation, since ‘risk taking’ and ‘failing fast’ need to be taken with a grain of salt given that healthcare is all about keeping people safe and healthy.”

Design thinking in healthcare demands change to come from the inside out with input from healthcare workers.

“Health providers are good problem solvers, and because they work in the hospital and other health care settings are uniquely positioned to come up with fresh solutions to health care problems,” The New York Times reported in August 2017.

Understanding patients empathetically creates better patient experiences and can lower costs, according to Harvard Business Review. Further, it leads to new product development, better patient spaces and can improve issues such as patient transportation, clinician-patient communication and healthcare provider biases. Design thinking clearly makes a huge difference in healthcare services.

McGann spoke recently with Lawrence General Hospital Senior Vice President of Medical Affairs and Population Health Dr. Pracha Eamranond about design thinking’s impact on the industry. Sutherland has teamed with LGH and applied design thinking to improve its patient experience and impact positively medical and financial outcomes. The level III hospital 30 miles outside of Boston faces a unique challenge because it serves one of the largest and poorest Latino populations in the United States. So, Sutherland ran a workshop with LGH using journey mapping, among other things, to figure out the parts of LGH’s patient experience that worked well and the parts that needed design thinking-based solutions.

“In the workshop, we separated into four groups, all with representatives from different units in the hospital, and we came up with similar types of patients,” Eamranond said in an interview with McGann. “It made us realize that while we work in different areas, we share a common bond -- the patient, often a Latino Spanish-speaking community member. When we came back into our next operations meeting at the hospital, we were able to focus on this patient profile and how to best serve them from our different perspectives, jobs, and departments.”

The hospital also formed a patient family advisory council (PFAC) that includes hospital staff, administrators and local community members to develop community relationships and garner from them ideas about what works and what needs to change.

Eamranond said LGH sometimes struggles still to make change happen quickly.

“But journey mapping helps us frame and segment experience -- not just for our patients but also with our colleagues and partners like Sutherland, which provides patient access and financial management support for our hospital,” he added. “It gives us a framework and helps us break down a problem and arrive at a solution more quickly. We have all improved in terms of how we communicate; design thinking is an important aspect of that. It changes the focus from ‘dealing with each other’ to working together because we know we have the same vision and a shared pathway. This is critical because no matter where we are in the hospital, our work touches the patients and their experiences in some way.”

Eamranond measures design thinking’s impact in part by examining patient experience scores for hospital staff responsiveness.

“We are applying design thinking around this particular measure hospital-wide and will report at the end of the year,” he said. “We are also isolating the responses from the Spanish-speaking patients as well as the total, so that we can understand the overall impact of the population health work we are doing – patient experience and design thinking are an integral part of it. The bottom line is that we need to provide an experience that patients and community members appreciate and an opportunity for them to keep getting better and healthier; it’s challenging to do this, and the approach we are taking now is speeding up what we want to accomplish.”

Join Sutherland Healthcare for an upcoming Design Thinking webinar with hFs’s Barbra McGann by registering here.