Insights

Intentional healthcare delivery with service design

July 21, 2020

The American healthcare system is under an incredible amount of pressure trying to keep up with the rising number of hospitalizations related to COVID-19. We need rigorous testing in order to have evidence-based data to help make informed decisions for what each town, city, and state needs to do to help flatten the curve.

However, all other health-related conditions and illnesses need attention and treatment too, adding to the mounting pressure. Remote healthcare delivery, telehealth, and virtual therapies are being forced to evolve as the growing population become increasingly reliant on those services.

The problems are many, yet there is no one-size-fits all solution. That’s where service design can help.

Service design uses design thinking methodologies, which put people at the center of challenges and opportunities, to help solve complex problems. In the context of healthcare, users can be patients, healthcare providers, and insurers to name a few. In fact, the CDC has published a study citing the benefits of using design thinking within a healthcare setting.

Four benefits of using Service Design to improve healthcare outcomes

1. Identify the correct problem
One of the biggest benefits Service Design can offer the healthcare system is user research and field observation. User research and field observations focus on understanding patients, nurses, doctors, and payers’ behaviors and needs in context.

This type of deep dive into real, contextual experiences can uncover issues on a granular level, helping to broaden understanding and peel back layers of bias, judgement, and assumptions. Healthcare systems need to support and care for the heart of what matters. It’s an approach that focuses on building empathy and ensuring that the business choices that impact delivery and patient experience are made through the lens of what matters to the patient.

Similarly, if the research is centered around better understanding the primary providers’ experience, then their true needs are put at the center. Delivering quality care is a balancing act of ensuring everyone is enabled with what they need. As service designers, we methodically observe each user, so we can better understand their individual needs.

2. Break down silos
Healthcare doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Every service interaction has many hidden and moving parts. For example, paying with Apple Pay is easy, but there is a lot that happens in the background to enable that transaction for it to be seamless and functional. In order to solve problems faster and more efficiently, there needs to be cross-functional teams and viewpoints across silos.

A Service Blueprint is a tool that can break down silos by visualizing various touchpoints within an existing or future experience. Think of it as a map that visualizes the realities and steps of service experiences from multiple perspectives, including both digital and physical touchpoints and processes. When visualized, the interactions and sequencing of service touchpoints can be seen across organizational silos.

Once a blueprint is created, it enables key decision makers to be more strategic about what needs to change because they can see the gaps, weaknesses, and opportunities for both users’ needs (patients, caregivers, etc.) and organizational delivery.

3. Design digital service for the digital age
Today, there’s not only a demand for telemedicine and automation, there’s a real need. Building digital services goes beyond adding a telemedicine button to your website. Accessible digital services need to be built into offerings, starting from onboarding. Service design identifies the requirements within a service and determines which touchpoints can be digitized, automated, or self- served for better quality patient and professional self-service experiences.

Services that people are able to access themselves independently or digitally can have economic benefits for patients and healthcare industries alike. For example, patients can reduce costs by not having to take time off from work or needing to take transportation to their appointments because they can be done remotely, especially during the current pandemic.

Clinics can save money by reducing cancellations and retaining patients because appointments can be conducted virtually. Service design takes into consideration the ecosystem that supports people in the best way and is also effective, efficient, desirable, and scalable for all stakeholders involved.

4. Feedback and iteration
Before implementing a new service, you need to test it. Prototyping (which is an early draft of a concept that is built as quickly and easily as possible) is a perfect tool because it’s a fast way to test and receive feedback on your ideas before the concept is completed. It helps designers understand how our riskiest assumptions and solutions work out in the real world with real users.

Healthcare services are often rolled out without prior testing (see healthcare.gov challenges) and then the broken components are addressed with patchwork quick fixes and by users creating workarounds. By using prototyping and testing methods, our healthcare system can detect breakdowns and issues within a service before it is built prior to significant investment, which will save both time, money, and customer frustration.

Moving forward

As service designers, we want to help our healthcare workers! We want to re-evaluate and re-design how the healthcare system in the United States is approaching remote care delivery, while being sensitive to many competing priorities.

Service design is a thoughtful way of approaching complex service delivery challenges.

For some, this approach is a radical way to address siloed institutional thinking with much more intentionality. More than ever, it is time for a change. The first small step towards healing a broken system experiencing new and overwhelming demand is to have empathy for those who set it up and are working in it. Second, we need to understand the real needs for each role within the system.

Through empathy and intentional service delivery, we can begin to rebuild a system to care for us in the ways that matter which deliver the greatest impact.


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Service Designer

Lindsey Cochran

Lindsey Cochran is a UX researcher and service designer. She has masters in social welfare, which she uses to inform her work in the tech industry. She is a margarita connoisseur and loves dogs.

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