Design Thinking in Healthcare: How Patient-Centric Practices are Reshaping the Industry

By Manish Gulati

What it really takes to optimize patient trust and healthcare results.

With increasing debate surrounding the digitization of healthcare, and the overall industry ready for transformation and disruption, there is too much said and very little done on a scale. This landscape changed in 2020 due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, with healthcare professionals and patients having to shift to virtual care and online consultations.  

While this move helped all the stakeholders, including healthcare providers payers, and patients, to accelerate their adoption of digital healthcare, it is a crucial time to now utilize this momentum to push teleconsultations from the early adoption phase to the early majority phase.

How Healthcare Providers are Leveraging Design Thinking to Improve Patient Experiences

Every year, nearly 3.6 million people miss out on their medical appointments because of transportation barriers, thereby resulting in annual costs for hospitals in billions. Missed clinical appointments or no-shows often leads to disease progression and other complications as well, from challenges rescheduling these appointments to interference with treatment and patient care.

While the outcomes of no-shows have been broadly studied, the exact reasons patients miss their appointments are not always certain. But until we don’t get to the bottom of this issue, we won’t be able to solve it. This is where high focus on the overall patient experience – from what goes on before patients’ arrival to the clinic to what happens after they leave – can help.

Many healthcare providers are starting to pay closer attention to understanding the patient experience to resolve these challenges, we well as improving cost optimization. However, it’s not always easy to   onboard key stakeholders to contemplate nonclinical factors.

This is where design thinking comes into the picture. It is one of the most promising approaches for getting an in-depth understanding of patients’ experiences.

Design thinking is a creative, patient-centered problem-solving approach that leverages rapid prototyping, repetitive testing, collective ideation, and empathy to solve complex problems.

Unlike legacy approaches to problem solving, design thinkers go above and beyond to understand patients and their expectations before proposing solutions. This thorough understanding is what drives the rest of the process. Moreover, since this approach involves continuous testing and filtering of ideas, feedback is sought early and often, directly from the patients.

The healthcare industry has already leveraged first-hand design thinking, leading to the development of new products and better designed spaces. If more healthcare pioneers adopt design thinking, they can gain a deeper understanding of patients to solve other problems at hand to achieve better outcomes and patient experiences, whilst reducing costs along the way.

Designing a Patient-Centric Experience

How can healthcare providers apply design thinking to the persistent and expensive problem of clinical no-shows? In general cases, patients are asked to submit their concerns through the standard patient experience survey, which is introduced after an appointment and consists of questions regarding the clinical visit.

This custom, patient-focused approach of problem solving is the main pillar of design thinking. Healthcare providers well-versed in design thinking would determine this issue and then assign a team to dedicate weeks or even months to evaluating the patients. This multidisciplinary team would use quantitative and qualitative research methods, including surveys, observations, and focus groups, to thoroughly understand their experiences.

Later, they would identify patterns and state the real challenge at hand. For instance, a team studying missed appointments would quickly notice that a lot of patients do not necessarily forget their appointments or fail at managing their time. It’s simply socioemotional than organizational.

Once the team determines the actual problem, they would ideate possible solutions and then start rapid prototyping to test them. This prototype would then be tested by stakeholders and even third-party officials to gather relevant feedback.  Often, this feedback would define whether or how to modify solutions, or if more critical feedback is needed. The consequence is a solution centered on how the patient will benefit the most from.

The Future of Healthcare: Which Technologies Would be Suitable for a Patient-Centric Approach

The best innovations of the 21st century will be at the intersection of biology and technology.” – Steve Jobs

The healthcare industry is seeing the potential of digital technology for building a new patient-focused business model that combines IoT (Internet of Things) with AI (Artificial Intelligence) and big data analytics to develop new, more tailored drugs for smaller groups of patients while tracking and managing patient adherence and care consequences.

Gamification and Medical Wearables

A lot of studies have shown that gamification can have imperative, affirmative effects on patients’ health by encouraging adherence to treatment, nurturing resilience, and fostering motivation to fight diseases. According to a study by Global Market Insights, Inc., the global healthcare gamification market is projected to reach $40 billion by 2024.

Medical wearables or clinical-grade wearable technology contribute to healthcare’s potential to engage with patients to build a more patient-centric ecosystem together with wearable device applications. These incorporate critical functionalities and features that ca be used to track changes in vital signs at an early stage.

For example, Leif Therapeutics, a San Francisco-based wearable devices company that launched in 2014, has become the fastest-growing retailer in this sector, with an YOY growth of well over 100% every year since its establishment. Lief Therapeutics provides a super-thin wearable patch that tracks users’ heart rate and breath statistics. Put simply, Lief Therapeutics “behavioral coaches and wearable smart patch empowers patients to improve their mental health” without having to visit a physical clinic.

Neuralink: When Technology Replaces Humans

Another example of a futuristic wearable device is Neuralink: a brain-computer interface (BBCI) made of thin, thread-like implants developed by Elon Musk. The aim of this project is to develop a way to merge the human brain with a computer, allowing people to control technology with their thoughts.

The Neuralink team believes that the therapeutic uses of its BCI could be the most promising, with applications ranging from amputees regaining mobility with prosthetics to patients with vision, hearing, and sensory issues to technology being leveraged to treat spinal cord injuries.

If commercialized, the Neuralink implants could foster powerful growth in the healthcare industry. But will this innovation be part of a design thinking approach? Or would it rather be more transhuman-centered?

What’s Next?

In conclusion, healthcare is redefining itself with more patient-centric goals, powered by cutting-edge technologies such as AI and IoT. In any case, digital tools can sometimes give rise to ambiguity on whether they’re used in patients’ service. This can also pose a challenge with regards to medical data privacy. However, we live in a world where data is constantly being attacked by cyber vulnerabilities and there are measures to control it.

Even though patient-centricity is the answer, healthcare providers and technologists must not forget about breaking silos and think “outside of the box” as health is complex and multifactorial and there’s still uncertainty with regards to answers.

About the Author

Manish Gulati

Chief Delivery Officer

Manish has more than two decades of experience in the IT services industry and has served clients in multiple sectors solving their business challenges and helping them achieve their business vision by leveraging technologies such as Web/Mobile, Cloud, CRM, E-commerce, and many others.

Manish is passionate about delivering business value through Digital Transformation initiatives. He is a trusted partner and advisor for many executive team members of key accounts and often works with them to strategize, build product road maps, define customer experience/user experience, and plan execution details for their strategic program initiatives.

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