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Design Thinking in Health Care “The Patient Experience Project”

Medical Staff Tending a Patient

Most individuals have had some sort of experience with the medical system over the past year, whether directly as a patient or indirectly as a friend or family member of a patient. These experiences may be in clinics, hospitals, or other settings. Many patients have positive experiences, but unfortunately many do not. This not due to substandard care, but often to a difficult time understanding medical terminology, feeling lost in the process or an inability to get their emotional needs met. In addition, because the medical system has not known about, or provided for, the many different norms and expectations that diverse populations bring to those settings.

University of Utah students are addressing these issues in an innovative project aimed at redesigning the patient experience. Working in collaboration with the area hospitals, students try experiencing health care from a variety of perspectives including patient, health care provider, hospital administration, nursing and insurance, designing interventions to improve the overall patient experience.

Design thinking is a methodological approach for investigating complex ill-defined problems like those that are faced in healthcare. Design thinking arises out of design fields such as architecture and industrial design fields as way to develop creative solutions that are human centric. This involves gaining empathy for the targeted group, developing creative solutions to fit within the context of the problem and then implement the well honed solutions into the system. This is often referred to as the 3 I stages; Inspiration, Ideation and Implementation.

Using this approach the students move past the manipulation of the physical layout of a space and learn how to think about design in a broader sense, as a problem solving methodology and design an experience. In order to gain an understanding of the needs of the patient and gain empathy to their situation, the students become a patient for a day where they had to find the appropriate location, meet with nurses, lie in patient beds, fill out paperwork and wait in patient rooms. This helped them understand the issues and develop innovative solutions.

Students also shadowed a team of physicians during patient rounds to experience the other side of care giving. They were further immersed in the patient experience through a series of lectures and discussion from various health care stakeholders including hospital administration, nursing, insurance, family care-giving, design and architecture.

The use of empathetic design principles encouraged students to go beyond their typical approaches to class work and begin to experience health care issues from different vantage points The experiential learning as well as the perspectives of the healthcare stakeholders emboldened students to solve the challenges faced at a hospital in their community.

To hear more about Design Thinking and how it is being applied to Health Care, Business and Innovation, consider attending the panel discussion by experts during Salt Lake Design Week November 16th at 6:30 pm at the Salt Lake Art Center. More details can be found on or by contacting Jim Agutter,

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