Increase quality, decrease cost..oftentimes, quality, profitability and sustainability operate at odds with each other.   This is why the use of design thinking is needed in the strategic and planning stages for a new process, system or policy.  First, it helps to address inefficiencies and perennial organizational crises that interfere with healing and disrupt the patient experience. And second, it helps the team discover and apply paradigm-shifting innovations in how they thought of the entire health journey, from pediatrics to geriatrics, from admission to home.

A committed team of design leaders, healthcare administrators, front line and medical staff are basic members to change the patient experience, the works pace and operations. Workflows are a large opportunity to employ rapid cycle innovation in a practical environment. For example, a team can create a full-scale mock-up of key functional areas of a future clinic. The healthcare providers and operations staff then could actually move about in, interact with and role play in the space — as they designed it. This real-world engagement with the space can iterate to a final version that has greater value than the initial plan.

By learning design thinking, those on the front lines of hospitals, clinics, and related service organizations gain the “creative confidence” to make change happen. This confidence boost requires a change in mindset from leadership as well, so staff is both supported and encouraged to apply their knowledge to improving the lives of everyone who interacts with healthcare professionals – that is, with everyone. Front line staff should have access to tools and knowledge for design thinking/continuous improvement and be encouraged to explore, create and try new ideas to improve patient care.

Design thinking provides a great framework, a great way of thinking, and can considerably improve health care experience and outcomes. For example, in a clinic, consider asking a series of questions: Should there be a check-in desk taking up most of the lobby? Should thirty waiting patients be funneled through six reception windows to receive care in the twenty two available exam rooms? Must the patients be left idle while they wait for care? Or is there a better way to use the clinic space and the patients’ time?  This perspective on the patient experience can lead the teams to understand the reception area as an inherent problem of efficiency. Can the reception area be mobile enabled ?  Could someone with an iPad welcome each patient and register ?

All too often, these sessions happen in boardrooms, where the false consensus effect is free to take hold. In these situations, company leaders often inadvertently reject creativity and ingenuity in favor of logical models.The unintended consequence of this is that ideas that could benefit patients, families, care giver teams and customers and generate long-term value often fall by the wayside.

Until now, that is …

Design Thinking Grows Up

Design thinking has taken numerous leaps forward, playing a key strategic role in decision-making for companies like Apple, Whirlpool, and GE….enhance the experience…enhance the value.

Design Thinkers Are Problem Solvers

Design thinking is at the crux of problem solving, albeit not in a traditionally corporate sense. When presented with a mission or a goal, designers start from the bottom up, creating solutions based on learning and iteration.

A design doesn’t happen overnight; instead, much like artists, designers need time to build solutions, test them, hypothesize successful outcomes, evaluate performance, and deliver final results. Through this process, design thinkers can provide highly efficient solutions by building and expanding on given concepts in a way traditional analytical thinkers cannot.

By contributing to organic growth via a structured framework, the use of design thinking can provide solutions to a wide range of problems and concepts. Other thinkers may be able to work in a particular problem space, but design thinking is applicable across organizations and industry verticals.

Design Thinking Leads to Innovation

As businesses mature, they can become less tolerant of risk. Healthcare is especially wary of risk for the very good reason of patient safety. This isn’t always a negative. In some cases, lack of change can work. However, in other cases it can lead to stagnation. The entire process of design thinking is focused on the creation of new, different, and innovative ideas that are novel to a situation. Much like two companies cannot have the same website, logo, or mission statement, two businesses cannot operate on the same principles and expect to differentiate.

Leaders Should Be Design Thinkers

Leadership comes in many flavors, and some flavors are arguably better than others. Much of leadership requires creative thinking, rapid processing of information, and the ability to start over when things don’t work quite right.

Discipline isn’t always a good way to address failures, and standard tactics for group guidance could potentially hold back the creative process, especially when it comes to research and development of new products.

Design thinking is a beneficial skill for leaders. Using design thinking as a key driver of organizational strategy to deconstruct business problems and gain customer insights ensures that data-driven decisions override boardroom pontification.

Time for You to Embrace Design Thinking?

If you’ve never before put stock in design thinking, now may be the perfect opportunity to take strides forward. A few tweaks in how you approach problems as a team, structure the creative process and workflow and visualize successful outcomes can make a significant difference in how problems are approached.

Organizations that struggle to innovate have the most to gain from encouraging design maturity across departments and creating a culture that celebrates design thinking. There are many ways to make changes, but one thing is for sure: we all need design thinking to stay competitive in today’s fast-moving business climate and the front line thinkers hold promise when given the tools and encouragement to have their ideas realized.

Is design thinking a part of your organization ?

Brenda Hopkins  RN, MBA