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Design Thinking in Healthcare

How can design thinking stimulate the evolution of healthcare?
April 13, 2016
6:00 PM - 9:00 PM
MaRS Centre
Think back to the last time you sat endlessly in a clinic waiting room or stood in line waiting to be served at a pharmacy. More likely than not, you can imagine ways that these experiences could be quicker, more engaging, or easier for you as a patient. Your experiences reflect an ongoing endeavor in healthcare to build efficient systems and integrate new technologies in order to better engage patients and motivate healthcare providers with a view toward making the experiences better for all involved.

And, all of this is couched in the question: how can we do more with less?

These not-so-small dilemmas are tackled in this week’s DesignMeets…Design Thinking in HealthCare event, hosted by Pivot Design Group in partnership with PwC at the MaRS Centre.

Pivot Design Group’s founder and creative director, Ian Chalmers, opened the evening by explaining design thinking as a process and how it translates across industry lines. It is about creative problem solving, he said, and generating multiple solutions by envisioning multiple futures.

First and foremost, design thinking is about creating systems with people, the users of a system, in mind. The objective is to identify the observable and non-observable needs of people and understand problems from a user – or in this case, patient – point of view to create a better fit for all people.

As the healthcare system is trying to incorporate new technologies, groups like Pivot Design Group are trying to figure out how to make these new technologies more efficient and holistic through a patient-experience lens.

Six speakers from a diverse range of professional and creative backgrounds within healthcare shared their thought-provoking perspectives about how design thinking can become an intrinsic part of our healthcare systems.

The Speakers

William Falk, national leader of Healthcare Services at PwC, spoke on behalf of the event sponsor and kicked off the discussion by emphasizing a need for change.

“Our provider-centric healthcare system needs to flip itself and look at the world of healthcare from a user-experience point of view,” he said, stressing the importance of hearing the wants and needs of healthcare consumers.

“What you’ll hear today are a group of people who have really tipped that provider-centric model on its head,” Falk continued.

First to the podium was Jerry Koh, MaRS Solution Lab manager, a public and social innovation lab that works with citizens, innovators and partners to design and scale solutions to complex social and economic challenges.

Canada, Koh explained, is a country of perpetual healthcare pilot projects, most of which are designed to succeed within a framework guided by a mechanistic business plan – but he says we need to dig much deeper than that.

The problem of pilot projects, Koh said, is that designers become caught up with the success of their project within small-scale contexts and skip design thinking about how these projects may translate to large-scale environments.

He encouraged healthcare providers to embrace design thinking first and foremost, by taking a step back to look outside of the pilot framework and set their sights on all patient experience.

Koh explained his involvement in a project to detangle the e-health records system. The aim is to create a gateway within the system that places the patient at its centre. He explained that by scaling a system based on user-friendly access it allows patients to become leaders of their own health data.

For Koh, design thinking is a means to shift the paradigms that guide the system to a truly patient-centered approach.

The thought that you can actually design a system that is going to change things, without going outside of the context just won’t work – you are part of the broader system. You can make a small change, but you want to make a transitional change.

— Cliff Harvey, North York General Hospital

Next to take the microphone was Cliff Harvey, vice president of Planning, Facilities and Support Services at North York General Hospital. Like Koh, he agrees that physicians need to change their perspectives in order to provide patients with user-friendly, efficient healthcare service.

Like Koh, he agrees that healthcare providers need to step out of their role within the system to consider broader contexts of patient experience in order to find tangible solutions to the most commonly felt problems.

However, Harvey acknowledged that these transitions take time and require healthcare providers to adapt to an entirely new way of thinking.

“When you talk about design thinking and you try to teach businesses or healthcare services to do it – you are actually teaching them something completely new and different,” he said.

He went on to describe the four-quadrant model as a useful tool to try integrating design thinking within new workspaces, specifically within healthcare systems.

He explained that when people approach a project through a design thinking lens, they veer away from traditional modes of linear thinking and problem solving. Solutions are no longer as simple as the number of patients seen or the reduction in hospital wait times.

Design thinking is not about small-scale change, Harvey explained, it’s about sweeping change.

For Harvey, transformational, innovative change requires the acknowledgement of all four quadrants of the brain – which makes cross-industry collaboration, teamwork and communication an absolute necessity.

Colleen Young, Community Director at Mayo Clinic Connect, uses design thinking as pathway to create communities of care and support among patients.

Mayo Clinic Connect is a virtual community connecting patients with each other and to Mayo Clinic medical experts. For Young, connectivity is everything and well-designed technology is making access to user-generated content faster and easier for all patients.

Social media functions as a simple, yet essential, tool to help mobilize patients to take leadership over their own healthcare. She explains that using design to create these platforms allows patients to navigate their own health and become the innovators behind the future of the healthcare systems that serve them.

“It’s patients first and clinicians second; once we’ve established that, this is a patient-led platform to help bring innovative ideas back into the clinic setting,” she said. “Healthcare professionals will remain the experts in disease, but patients are the experts in themselves.”

Similarly, Rhonda Wilson, Executive Lead at Telehomecare, emphasized the value of patient communities that encourage personal health management. Telehomecare has served 8,000 patients in Ontario to date, and that number is climbing. She explained that designing an infrastructure that allows patients to monitor their own health has led to a dramatic and continuous reduction of in-patient visits.

It’s the first project that I’ve been involved with that brings technology directly together with the patient.

— Rhonda Wilson, Telehomecare

Design lead at Healthcare Human Factors, Mike Lovas, focused his discussion on the benefits of borrowing concepts from Service Design when thinking about how design can be effectively infused into healthcare systems.

He said the goal of service design is to create a cohesive interaction for the consumer, from start to finish – a solution-based strategy that he believes is directly translatable to the patient experience.

He explained that by prioritizing service design concepts including holistic, customer-centered design, healthcare providers are able to broaden their understanding of the realities of the patient experience.

He cautioned all involved not to get distracted by our culture’s hyper-focus on product. Healthcare, he says, is far too complex and requires designers to step back and consider the bigger picture, with their sights firmly centered on the patient.

Next to take the podium was Craig Thompson, director of Digital Communications at Women’s College Hospital.

You can’t get to the good design until you get to the humility.

— Craig Thompson, Women’s College Hospital

Thompson shared one of his own personal healthcare experiences, not as a designer, but as a patient. As he told the audience about being asked to change into a paper smock inside a closet before a procedure, he encouraged the audience to reflect upon their own negative healthcare experiences as sources of innovation inspiration. He explained that design thinking starts by opening your eyes and remembering that healthcare is personal.

The Panel Discussion

Following the presentations, all six panelists took the stage to engage in a question and answer session. Audience members praised the speakers for their innovative imaginings of how design thinking can become integrated in healthcare systems in a real and lasting way.

The panelists highlighted the importance of listening and observation within design thinking and acknowledging the environments that patients occupy when they seek health services. More importantly, they encouraged us all to engage with that environment and pay attention to design solutions inspired by our experiences as healthcare consumers.

All speakers agreed that design solutions are not easy, but they can be made easier by setting tangible goals based on intentional observation. Moderator, Tai Huyhn, Creative Director at UHN’s OpenLab, drew the discussion to a close by bringing the audience back to the basics – the most effective design thinking starts with one simple concept: think big; start small.

Pivot Design Group extends a special thanks to all speakers, our moderator, audience members and the event sponsor, PwC, for participating in this week’s DesignMeets event.