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How Patient-Centered Design Thinking Unites Diverse Healthcare Stakeholders

Posted in Articles | 5 min read

No matter where they work in the healthcare vertical, marketers, communicators, and strategists all have the same goal: to better understand and, therefore, better serve patients. After all, every healthcare organization needs patients to subsist.

  • Pharmaceutical companies need to understand patient burdens to develop better drugs. More practically, patients are required for clinical trials.
  • Hospitals care for patients, and they need better tools to comprehend patient behavior in order to improve patient health literacy.
  • Insurance providers (payers) want healthy patients who feel understood.
  • Medical device manufacturers have to understand patients to build successful products that meet the needs of key stakeholders (patients, clinicians, carers, etc.).

Since we’re all clearly compelled to connect with patients for any number of reasons, we should all come together to power diverse, patient-centric solutions. It only makes sense.

But how? The only approach that can drive a type of multidisciplinary conversation that champions patients and related stakeholders is design thinking.

Explaining the Historical Disconnect in the Healthcare Industry

Before we can dive into why design thinking is the vehicle for healthcare industry collaboration, we need to understand the obstacles that have hamstrung the adoption of such approaches in the past.

At the most simple level, the healthcare industry (like all complex industries) is heavily siloed between segments. Pharma, hospitals, insurers, etc. haven’t had the opportunity to interconnect to have these patient-centric conversations. In fact, they largely lack a common language to ignite any discourse.

Take an example: An expecting mother has Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). She’s unsure of what meds are safe during pregnancy, so she abruptly stops her regular RA treatment — to the detriment of her own health.

Imagine instead that this patient’s OB/GYN is armed with knowledge from a pharma company on biologics contraindicated in pregnant RA patients. It turns out that her patient’s usual treatment is perfectly safe in pregnancy. That mother can maintain her own health and her baby’s because of the collaboration of a hospital (the OB/GYN practice) and a pharma company.

Really, it was as simple as the hospital asking the pharma company a few questions — and the power of the subsequent collaboration is striking. Unfortunately, this type of cross-discipline discussion is a rarity. Oftentimes, no one asks these seemingly straightforward questions at all. And the patients are the ones who suffer when we’re not reaching out to our industry brethren.

The Shift Toward Patient-Centered Care Creates Space for Healthcare Co-Creation and Design

There are already some healthcare industry players taking this cross-discipline approach and partnering for better patient outcomes. These are the early adopters of the Biopsychosocial Model, a model by George Engel that looked at the importance of holistic care nearly 50 years ago. These early adopters took up the plight of patients before it became somewhat trendy.

Now, as patient-centered care continues its upward trajectory, more and more healthcare organizations will realize the value of relationships beyond their hospital or their pharma company or their medical product design firm.

After all, if your goal is patient-centered care, you need certain things that other healthcare industry players can give you.

Have you considered that, if you’re a pharmaceutical company, hospitals can grant you patient access? And, if you’re a hospital, a pharma company could invest in your network in exchange for this patient access? Or, if you’re a medical device manufacturer, have you thought about what a partnership with a hospital could mean in terms of real-time feedback on your products?

Cross-discipline dialogue is beneficial for all parties, including (and most importantly) patients.

Design Thinking: The Best Catalyst for Healthcare Collaboration

Even though early adopters might be participating in conversations outside of their respective healthcare organizations, it’s not widespread enough to affect sweeping patient-first care across the whole industry.

What’s more, these conversations probably aren’t leveraging design thinking to realize the full potential of collaboration.

Defining Design Thinking

At its core, design thinking is a toolbox of protocols — like journey mapping and persona development — that foster co-creation among a group of stakeholders. Importantly, design thinking leaves room for extreme stakeholder empathy, allowing even divergent groups to come together and ideate cohesive solutions.

This unique ability to coalesce different players into one conversation that actually yields results is why design thinking is the only approach that can unite all healthcare stakeholders around patient-first care initiatives. From pharma to hospitals to insurers and beyond.

Common Misconceptions about Design Thinking

There’s a misconception that design thinking is just that, thinking. But true design thinking also involves doing. Consider the steps of design thinking:

  1. Define
  2. Iterate
  3. Prototype
  4. Test

As you can imagine, design thinking is inherently active. You’re creating a prototype, testing it in the field, and then making improvements. It’s these follow-through actions that allow us to bring our design solutions to life and ultimately make the process so fruitful.

Yet another misconception about design thinking is that it’s only for designers, and that couldn’t be more wrong. Design thinking is for everyone. It’s not about painting or sculpting or drawing. In fact, if you’ve ever solved a problem, you are a designer — and design thinking is for you.

LIFT’s Design Thinking Experience Runs Deep

It’s important to note that, ideally, there’d be a convening professional organization dedicated to purposefully bringing otherwise disjointed industry professionals together around a common goal to solve complex healthcare design challenges. And we’re vying for that.

In the meantime, LIFT has its own design thinking practice with offerings that can be tailored to any multidisciplinary group. We’ll bring our refined set of tools — like our proprietary Solution Design Praxis — to you to solve even your most formidable challenges and unite even the most disparate stakeholders.

Moreover, our design thinking experience can be applied many ways to suit your needs. For example, we can run an entire workshop or we can assist you as you pull together one of your own. And everything can be face-to-face or digital at your request.

The LIFT Difference: End-to-end Healthcare Industry Knowledge and Context

Despite the fact that design thinking isn’t exclusive to the healthcare industry, you need a partner like LIFT, immersed in your world, to facilitate your design thinking workshop. A design thinking generalist just won’t cut it.

Why? Because designing solutions with the actual experience of the end user, the patient, in mind is relatively new in healthcare. Also, healthcare stakeholders know their margins are razor thin — they’re often tempted to stick to the status quo. As a result, proctoring a design thinking workshop for the healthcare industry can be an uphill battle, pushing against accepted industry norms.

LIFT has the proper context. We know the issues and dynamics unique to the healthcare ecosystem. We’ll overcome resistance to demystify patient-focused healthcare solutions even the most skeptical stakeholder can grasp.