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Healthcare is typically slow to adopt new approaches, and fast to resist them.  In my 20+ years of working in hospitals, I have witnessed this time and time again.  Excuse my all-caps plea, but I have decades-deep feelings about this.

Design thinking as an approach to problem solving is far from new; it’s origin begin in the 1960’s and it has slowly evolved - and proven successful - in many industries ever since.  It serves as a framework for innovation, and an important tool in any innovator’s toolbox, as its focus is about growth.

As the healthcare industry’s focus continues to shift from cost reduction to value based, isn’t it time for healthcare to fully embrace design thinking too?   To be fair, some organizations have indeed adopted it, trained the teams, provided the work space, and invested in this new way of working.  But because so many have only done it by buzzword (meaning: not much), and others won’t go there at all, the overall attitude of the industry is resistant.

Healthcare, my oldest friend - I strongly encourage you to take another look at Design Thinking and consider how it could benefit your organization.

The potential for design thinking in today’s healthcare environment is – huge.  And it can be used to improve many parts of your organization.  Such as:

  • Patient experience and care
  • Clinical and non-clinical processes
  • Transition of care

What is Design Thinking?

One way to think about design thinking is to start off by using analogies to define what it isn’t:

It’s not the beauty of your iPhone, the iPhone itself, nor the Apple store experience from which you purchased it.  Design thinking is never the product, service, or experience itself; it is how you create them.

What design thinking is, is a structured framework approach to problem solving, combined with a mindset to approach these problems as innovation opportunities.

The design thinking framework is different in that it is built for taking on “wicked” problems, in a highly collaborative, visual, iterative way – that in healthcare’s case, keeps the patient at the center of the entire process.

The design thinking mindset is “human centric” and seeks to humanize the problem-solving process, and the subsequent solutions, understanding that the problems are the fuel for innovation, and that the ability to innovate is one’s competitive advantage.

The fundamental difference in design thinking is that it is solution focused rather than problem focused and with a bias towards action.   In its simplest form, it seeks to truly understand why the problem exists and finds the right solution for the actual problem, versus simplistically addressing the perceived immediate need.

By re-framing healthcare’s approach to problem solving, and using creativity, truly innovative new patient-centered solutions could be developed.  

But Why Use Design Thinking?

The primary reason to use design thinking in healthcare is that when it comes to arriving at a solution to a problem, chances are good that someone’s got it all wrong.  Using design thinking significantly reduces that risk, and encourages the institutional creativity to drive innovation.

In my 15 years as a healthcare consultant, I have seen the typical approach to problem solving in healthcare as a templated, pre-defined solution inserted top down into the organization and supported by a bureaucratic and linear mindset.   There is no question that when leading such large “transformational” efforts that there are required degrees of command and control.  And that some things just need to be done (thus aren’t wicked), and that the regulatory requirements sometimes force slowness or boring solutions.

But aren’t there problems within your organization that not only would lend themselves to a design thinking approach, but whose results could be even better with this approach?

I would argue to the end of time - yes. 

And I welcome any organization’s challenge to personally demonstrate this for them.