How Human-Centered Design Can Answer Some of the Healthcare Industry’s Greatest Challenges.

Our healthcare system is in the midst of radical and highly disruptive change. If you work in the industry, you know what it’s like to end each day exhausted, wondering what tomorrow will bring. Healthcare leaders everywhere, from the CEO of an insurance company to the director of a Coordinated Care Organization to the manager of a primary care clinic, are puzzling through many of the same questions about the future.

At Coraggio, we use human-centered design to help our clients address current and future challenges. Although healthcare operates within a unique model, these processes can be invaluable to any industry, helping to frame a problem, identifying the right course of action and charting a path for success.

Healthcare Human-Centered Design

What is human-centered design?
Human-centered design is a creative approach to problem-solving that puts the user experience at the center of both the process and the solution. In applying a human-centered design approach, we walk our clients through the following steps:

  • Begin with listening to the customer—your patients, nurses, physicians, or perhaps another department in your organization—to understand their needs.
  • Engage people from all levels within the organization and even from outside—such as your patients or partners—to co-create potential solutions to customer needs.
  • Encourage the organization to bring solutions to life through rapid prototyping—test different solutions, get feedback, and revise.

Human-centered design can help healthcare leaders answer the critical questions they puzzle through each day. We asked some of our healthcare partners to reflect on the biggest opportunities and challenges likely to face their organizations over the next five years. Several trends that support using human-centered design emerged.

Trend #1: Healthcare’s transition from fee-for-service models to pay-for-success models is accelerating.
Dr. Bhavesh Rajani, Medical Director at Yamhill Community Care Organization (YCCO), is familiar with the growing demand for healthcare providers to do more with less. Currently, YCCO is paid per member per month; moving to a values-based model would bring lower reimbursements and a tighter margin of error. “It requires a greater understanding of risk and risk-based contracting,” he explains. But Dr. Rajani encourages leaders to face the hard questions head on: “How do we survive in a world of reduced reimbursements, and how do we work with our partners to provide better care at less cost?”

Opportunity #1:
Looking at major industry disruptions like reduced reimbursements requires fundamental changes to many organizations’ business models. Leaders can use human-centered design to quickly identify opportunities to better serve their customers. Those may be opportunities to increase top line revenue with new or enhanced services or decrease expenses through improvements to organization structures and processes. And because human-centered design emphasizes customer experience, these opportunities typically do double duty, helping with customer retention and attraction as well.

Trend #2: Healthcare organizations need to engage more effectively with patients and partners.
One of the healthcare industry’s greatest trials has always been outreach. Michael Anderson-Nathe, Chief Equity and Engagement Officer for Health Share of Oregon, is keenly aware of the need for new methods of community engagement. “Our strategic planning approach is not going to start unless the right people are engaged,” he explains. He cites prevention initiatives as prime opportunities for improvements. “There will be a greater focus on the upstream social determinant of health and thinking about the work outside of the clinic walls,” he notes. “We have a new obligation to provide money and resources for the upstream work. The cultural shift with the prevention work is that we partner differently with community groups and sectors.”

Opportunity #2:
Human-centered design, by definition, engages customers and stakeholders in the process. The process of co-creation means that partners can work together to leverage each other’s strengths, eliminate redundancies, and make the experience of the customer—who could be a patient, a partner, or another team in your organization—more seamless. By reducing friction and allowing organizations to focus on what they do best, both staff and customers are happier and more engaged.

Trend #3: Leaders are investing in their employees to support them through these major industry and organizational changes
“Happiness trickles down, because leaders set the tone for the day and the work environment,” says Dr. Damon Wahrus, President of Women’s Healthcare Associates, in Portland, Oregon. As a leader, he’s been challenged to take a more empathetic direction in his daily work, with a new focus on things like physician burnout and wellness. But, he argues, ensuring flexibility while standardizing workflows, office hours and staffing “will pay off. Turnover will decrease.”

Martin Taylor, CEO of the Oregon Nurses Association, addresses this same need through community-building within the organization’s membership. “It’s about creating a community of practice,” he says. Underneath the politics of healthcare, “people strive for community. It’s a legacy at a time when community really matters. [We are still trying to figure out] what does that look like in a modern time, where technology and other things have changed?” In the meantime, Taylor strives to support his members by “making sure that people have the right tools and support to achieve their direction. It’s about making sure that we’re making investments in areas that need it most.”

Opportunity #3:
Human-centered design is about people, both the customers and the service providers. Often, innovations that improve the customer experience also improve the service provider experience, and vice versa. Why? Human-centered design necessitates that you involve team members in the problem-solving process. So, your team members will have the opportunity to advocate for solutions that improve outcomes for both customers and themselves.

Human-centered design allows leaders to combine process with people to address the industry’s challenges, from changing models of reimbursement and accountability to the growing need for engagement and community. As healthcare leaders face rising unpredictability in the coming years, new opportunities for its application will continue to surface. Those who keep the user experience at the core of their problem solving will not only survive, they will thrive.

For an example of how you can use human-centered design to improve your work today, see our post: Human-Centered Design Tools You Can Implement Today

Blog post developed in collaboration by:  Susan Kerosky, Michael KosmalaTrever Cartwright, and Alexandra Reese.