How design methods help in achieving better health outcomes.
The field of healthcare offers a challenging context for service development. It is a vast, complex, highly regulated environment with multiple different stakeholders and competing interests. Health services are often less linear than most consumer services, as there can be many clients and users with different needs involved in a single service. In addition, the services are quite intimate and heavily based on human interaction, so having a ready-made one-size-fits-all solution is nearly impossible. Thus developing health services requires a strong understanding of the context as well the ability to take into consideration various points of view.
Years of experience in designing services with a wide range of healthcare organizations has given us insight in how to manage the complexity and how to offer our clients and end users what they really want and need. These insights can be summarized in 3 general, interconnected principles: Experiment, Engage, Exemplify.
The rapidly changing environment of healthcare requires agility to respond to the changes quickly and continually. The challenge is that health services strive to avoid risks, so they tend to be a little conservative in trying out new things. However, risks could be managed much more efficiently by making early experimentations while developing new services.
Fast mock-ups of services can be built and tested quickly and inexpensively. This helps to steer the design process by showing which ideas are worth investing in, before a lot of resources are spent in actually realizing them. Constant, iterative validation and co-design of service concepts ensure that the final service corresponds to the needs of the user and that no resources are wasted on unnecessary features.
Allowing experiments while ideating also reduces the participants fear of failure leading to better participation, and consequently, to a wider range of possible solutions. Furthermore, service prototyping makes it possible to look at multiple ideas simultaneously, resulting in things being combined in novel ways, which increases the likelihood of innovation.
Designing for health services requires an extensive knowledge of the field and of different social, economic and technological drivers that affect health care. This kind of knowledge is often embedded in organizational silos and can only be obtained through knowledge networks that span across different professions and institutions. Involving experts of different aspects of the service helps in forming a common understanding about the challenges, possibilities and boundary conditions of the project.
In addition, much of the knowledge of the users’ needs is latent, meaning that it is not spoken aloud, but can only be accessed by understanding the users’ feelings. The best way to gather this information is by co-designing with the users and by observing how they prioritize and value things while making decisions related to the service.
Co-design has also proven to improve the stakeholders’ engagement in the project. People that take part in the design process see their own impact in the outcome and are more likely to feel ownership over it. This improves client satisfaction and ensures that the people involved are willing to endorse the new operating model.
Health services are often challenging to imagine or outline, as they mostly happen in immaterial interactions and are based on complicated organizational structures. It is difficult to design something that is hard to understand and communicate, especially since service development requires collaboration between experts of different domains with their own vocabularies and points of view. This is why, to make it understandable, it is important to make things as tangible as possible.
Concrete representations of the service work as a common language for the people involved in the design process and make things easier for everyone to understand. Concretization allows participants to look at things from many different points of view and encourages them to plan and take action. This way it becomes possible to utilize the knowledge of different stakeholders involved in the process. Tangible models also help to section and streamline services to better align the resources with the users’ and the market’s needs.
Furthermore, visualizations are a powerful tool for communicating visions of desired future outcomes. An inspiring future scenario can be a motivating factor, as it allows imagining a radically different alternative for the current reality. Future scenarios also help to validate a common goal for the project, tying it to the long-term vision of the organization. A visualized goal can embed a lot of meaning and works as a good lens for decision making throughout the design process.