Applying Design Thinking to Healthcare

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My mother in law called me a few weeks ago and asked why 
“no one has taken the patients waiting room experience into account when designing medical environments”.
 I was inspired to write out how I would go about solving this problem and sent her an email detailing my process. Of course, this is not uncharted territory — both 
Stanford's d.School and IDEO have paved the way to push “Design Thinking” into the mainstream.

I’m going to outline my thought process on how I would approach the problem of patient satisfaction in the waiting room environment

To be clear, I know that there are several projects that have been done around patient satisfaction and the waiting room experience, I wanted to help explain how I would personally attempt to solve this issue using Design Thinking. Design thinking is a framework for solving problems. It quickly breaks down like this:

Step 1. Empathize: Seek to understand. Interviews. Non-Judgemental. Observations. Shadowing
Step 2. Define: Roles. Challenges. Pain points. Personas 
Step 3. Ideate: Share ideas. Big brainstorming. Yes, and. Prioritize objectives
Step 4. Prototype: Mockups. Simple. Fail fast. Iterate quickly. 
Step 5. Testing: What works? What doesn’t? What can be improved upon?

Problem statement:

How would a team of User Experience designers solve the problem of patient satisfaction in a waiting room?

I start by using Empathy to understand who is impacted by the problem and what specific issues they are having. Before I can focus on putting forth solutions, I have to know more details. Using a combination of interview methods, ethnographic studies, and observation I would set out to get these details first:

- Who does this problem impact? 
This is who we’re trying to help.

- Who else does it impact secondhand? 
Other people will benefit from the solutions, besides the main identified persona. Who might they be?

- Who does it impact that we aren’t thinking about?
There's always someone this problem impacts that aren’t considered in the initial research. Its good practice to identify these outliers

- Who is paying for this to get done?
This is important. Who is funding this project?

- What is a patient’s overall journey look like?
Every moment starting with when the patient makes an appointment or wakes up that day should be considered. It is important to think about emotional reactions as well as physical actions as well. What did the patient eat for breakfast? How did the patient arrive at the Dr’s office? How does the patient feel about their upcoming visit?

- What is the average time per patient in a waiting room?
This will be helpful if “reducing waiting times” is something that will be solved for

- Do certain providers have a history of making patients wait longer?
Since the problems and solutions rely so heavily on human beings all of these factors need to be taken into consideration

Explaining the How Might We

This is how we structure an objective for a project, with a quick breakdown of what each part of the question aims to solve.

I explained why “how might we” is a great way to start solving a problem as a team. It gives everyone permission to “think outside the box” and come up with extreme solutions right off the bat. Normally, those extreme solutions “reigned back in” later but they are never discouraged.

I would start by asking

WHO are we improving the experience for? In this example, we said “patients in a waiting room”. 
Usually, the framework focuses in on 2–3 different “personas”. (A persona is an audience profile we put together based on interviews, data analysis, behaviors, and other meaningful information).

Other people (oftentimes referred to as “users” or actors) in this scenario could be:

- A practice manager
- A RN
- A practice administrator

I come up with a list of “assumptions” about the problem, but we DO NOT rely on assumptions to solve problems. We need to validate these assumptions using research methods that I talk about below.

Then I would gather (focusing on the “patient” persona)

WHAT are the biggest problems that patients are experiencing in the waiting room?

How would I find this out? A few different ways:

1. Interviews with different patients to find out their biggest “pain points” with the waiting room experience
2. Observation and analysis 
3. Short surveys (exit surveys, in-person surveys)

The next part happens really quickly — because our motto with design solutions is to “fail fast and iterate”

We start implementing these solutions as a “prototype” and gather feedback on them as fast as possible. We iterate these solutions based on real feedback. It's a cycle of test, feedback, iterate, test, feedback, iterate. Sometimes this process can take years, sometimes months or even a few short weeks.

The outcome is a multi-phased solution:

- Environmental Factors: A team of industrial designers will be called upon to analyze the furniture and provide the most ergonomically comfortable solutions. Ambient lighting to improve mood and stability 
- A software team: 
To build an algorithm that helps predict wait times based on last-minute scheduling changes in the back office. A companion app to go along with it 
- Patient Information Stations: Deliberate “stations” for patients in the waiting room. Netflix in a booth, brain games on an iPad, informational reading material in another
- Healing hearts room: 
An area for patients that have just received bad news that focuses on comfort. Tea, tissues and a safe environment (drawn upon from personal experience).