Health Business:

How design can shape the future of healthcare


The global healthcare industry is in flux, and the UK serves as a clear example of the challenges facing both the public and private sectors. The goals of each are aligned and often seem simple: to help people live full and rich lives; and to mitigate preventable illness and to create a healthier, happier society.

But, dramatically rising costs, changing policy and declining quality of care make for a complex reality. Innovation from across the industry is also transforming the dynamic between patients, physicians, hospitals, insurers and pharmaceutical companies. With countless sources of information online, wearables to track our personal stats, apps to diagnose, and new services emerging, patients are becoming increasingly empowered to manage their own health experiences and outcomes.

But it isn’t enough to simply focus on the technology that enables them. Technology is the ‘how’ behind the delivery of an idea, but for an idea to make a true impact we have to focus on people first, on the ‘what’ and ‘why’ behind it.

What do people need in order to live healthier lives or deliver better care? Why is a company, solution or technology best suited to meet that need above others?

Using this type of people-first approach often falls under a methodology referred to as ‘design thinking’.

This is well-summarised by Tim Brown, CEO of the consultancy IDEO who says: “Design thinking can be described as a discipline that uses the designer’s sensibility and methods to match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity.”

High profile businesses like Pepsi and Samsung are increasingly bringing design thinking into the boardroom. This approach gives space for employees to nurture new ideas and understand what these ideas mean for customers. Quickly and cheaply prototyping to build the ideas, fail, and build again allows these companies to measure the impact on their customer’s lives, and healthcare is catching on.

In the US, the Mayo Clinic’s Center for Innovation prototypes ideas like OB Nest, which examines ways to give prenatal care from a distance. Other ideas, like the ‘Jack and Jill’ rooms simply explore how the design of a physical exam space could better facilitate conversation between a patient and their doctor. One idea greatly leverages new technologies while the other is completely offline and analogue, but each has identified and solved for a deep human need.

Here in the UK, St. Mary’s Hospital has built an entire design team to drive a similar approach. Called the Helix Centre, it is exploring how design can quickly and affordably transform healthcare for both patients and providers. Other organisations, like MacMillan Cancer Support, have a dedicated team helping them embed an innovation process within the organisation.

Looking ahead in 2016, what are the biggest opportunities for design to transform healthcare? As designers ourselves, we’ve considered this question carefully, with the hope of providing long-term and effective solutions for the industry. Here we outline three of the key trends, which are set to transform healthcare – in both private companies and public institutions alike.

Empower patients to take control

With an overwhelming amount of information available online, an ability to track personal data, and access to basic diagnostic tools, patients are taking control of their own health. They can now understand and plan their own wellness in a way that works for them personally.

Of course, this isn’t to say doctors or nurses – the true experts – will become obsolete, or that the patient always knows best. Rather, the relationship with a caregiver will shift from a single ‘get better’ transaction to one that is longer term and can result in fewer readmissions and more time with the patients.
With patients empowered with knowledge of what’s happening to their own mind and body, providers and pharma can help them reach their long-term wellness goals on an individual level rather than categorically by condition or life-stage.

An example of this is a platform called Elma, which allows patients to take control and record their wishes for their end-of-life care. This information can be shared with family and physicians whose care they may be under, but with whom they might not have a personal relationship. While this idea leverages new technologies, it ultimately allows the patient to feel secure that their wishes are being carried out in all stages of life.
clarity on the patient path to care

‘Patient engagement’ is often described as the next revolution in healthcare. In general, the term is used to describe patients who are actively involved in getting the most benefit out of the healthcare system.

Many experts suggest that if healthcare providers can get patients involved in their care then it will cut costs and prevent disease, in a way that no pharmaceutical could match from administering a drug alone.

But is the lack of ‘engagement’ today due to patients not caring about their health?
Or could it be due to the lack of clarity they encounter when facing an illness? The uncertainty of how to navigate the healthcare system and where to turn for advice can be truly overwhelming.

With so much information available, whom should a patient trust?

In a recent project at Smart Design we partnered with TNC, The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy in the US, to build awareness, reduce uncertainty, and bring a new level of clarity to young women around IUD’s and implants. These birth control methods are 20 times more effective than the pill at preventing pregnancy but only six per cent of women were choosing them, mainly due to negative perceptions and incorrect information.

Through interviews and work sessions with young women, we designed a campaign that spoke to them in their words, addressed their true concerns, and gave them tools to start a conversation with their doctor.
This ‘layer’ of information from a reputable third party helped the women feel informed and comfortable in taking an active role in choosing the birth control option that worked best for them personally.

Better jobs for healthcare workers

Patients aren’t the only people in the complex healthcare equation. Those who work within the field – the doctors, nurses, therapists, and aid workers, among others – must be considered as we look towards a better healthcare future.

How can we design a healthcare system that considers clinicians and makes their lives easier at work so they can deliver better care to their patients?

We expect healthcare providers to put their best foot forward in every interaction with a patient, but we have to take into account that they are faced with a myriad of issues in their work environment that can make this difficult.

The NHS is losing an estimated £8.3bn annually from a lack of efficiency. Looking again at the work being done at the Helix Centre, we see that even simple, cost-effective solutions to seemingly small problems – like a new stock and storage system for IV fluids at St. Mary’s – can have a big impact for the staff. This is one small idea, but can imagine big change as it scales out across other hospitals within the UK.

An incredible healthcare future sits in front of us, and the possibilities for how our lives could change for the better seem never-ending. With the aid of a design-led approach, it’s a future where experiences are seamless and simple, providing end-to-end support for patients. Where doctors can easily collaborate with patients to spend time on care-giving, rather than on paperwork and a patient backlog. Where technology is used with a defined purpose and devices and ideas that were once science fiction are viable and part of our daily lives. And where we’ll shift from fixing an illness to maintaining our wellness overall.

This article first appeared in Health Business

Written By Jessi Pervola

Feb 2016