Patient-Centered: Good Health Care and Good Design

Apr 1, 2013, 6:00 AM, Posted by Beth Toner

Beth Toner

We’ve got design on our minds — from the design of health care’s physical environment to the design of the patient-provider interaction. We know all play a role in improving patient safety, the quality of care and even health outcomes.

To expand our understanding of design and to meet innovators who are putting their ideas into action, the Pioneer team has been sponsoring conferences, like the Mayo Clinic’s Transform, and attending others, like the GAIN—the AIGA Design for Social Value Conference or the Healthcare Experience Design conference, which I attended last week.

What is most intriguing to me about design — in realm of health care and more broadly — is how the ideas about how to do it right mirror our thinking about health care in general: it needs to be centered on the patient, both their needs and their unique experiences.

  • Good design reflects an understanding of the patient’s day-to-day experience. Health care providers have minimal time to spend with their patients and not enough time to get a good sense of what they struggle with every day. At Healthcare Experience Design, Helle Rohde Andersen and Eilidh Dickson from CIID Consulting highlighted the work they did with Novo Nordisk. To increase their understanding of what it was like to live with a chronic condition, they spent a week with individual patients with diabetes to observe what it really means to “manage” their disease. Through our support of Project HealthDesign, Pioneer has explored how “observations of daily living” can be integrated into clinical care, but how else we can gain this kind of understanding of the patient experience to improve their care and outcomes?
  • Patient experience should inform design, but we should not presume all patients are the same. Jamie Heywood, founder of Pioneer grantee PatientsLikeMe, spoke passionately about learning from one patient and applying that knowledge to the next one — and the next one, and the next one. Anything less, he contends, “we should make malpractice.” Nevertheless, in his keynote address, Dr. David Sobel, medical director of patient education and health promotion for Kaiser Permanente, reminded us of the importance of personalizing one-on-one interactions with patients. How can we design systems, materials, equipment and interactions to reflect knowledge gathered over time while still allowing them to be tailored for the individual?
  • We need to get better at understanding and considering the unique experiences of underserved and vulnerable populations. Dr. Ivor Horn, a pediatrician working at Children’s Medical Center and the George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C., pointed out that those who are funding and designing innovation for health care don’t know much about the experiences of the people who need those innovations the most. “Why aren’t my patients hearing about FitBit?” Horn asked. What should we do to ensure greater equity in innovation?

Are there other design conferences we should attend? Is there work being done in health care design that should be on our radar? Are there ideas in design that may have applicability in health and health care that should be brought to our attention? We’re counting on you to let us know.