When we think about the "why" of how we design products and services, our best work usually makes this planet a better place for all of us to live. Of course, not every product can make that claim, but with the design of medical products it’s almost built in. That said, especially with the constraints imposed by regulations, it’s easy to claim that our hands are tied and settle for a design compromise instead of looking for the best possible and most poetic answer. One day a hospital room will need to have the equivalently delightful experience of shopping in an Apple store.
It’s coming soon.
Hard to picture? Maybe so in the short term, but as we progress, patients no longer will be willing to accept a care system or the products within it that view them as passive recipients of treatment. Patient loyalty can mean the difference between success and failure for healthcare organizations. Gaining patient loyalty comes down to one core factor: the ability of healthcare organizations to consistently deliver positive patient experiences. Organizations that can do so will own the future of healthcare.
The adoption of a patient-centered care model is becoming the main focus of innovative healthcare organizations as accountability for clinical patient satisfaction continues to grow. Positive patient experiences are no longer a nicety for healthcare systems; they are an absolute necessity. We are seeing an industry wide consciousness shift of this understanding with the steady increase of CXOs (customer experience officers) being appointed to C-suite positions across major healthcare organizations.
It is the responsibility of the CXO to cultivate meaningful patient experiences for their organizations. That means that patients are met with positive interactions at every aspect of the incredibly complex healthcare delivery system. No easy task. To successfully deliver on such a multilayered operation, CXOs must examine their organizations through the lens of the patient. This, of course, is where design plays the most important role possible in delivering empathy in the form of products, services and user interactions—in looking at the entire user experience at every touch point.
As the chief experience and marketing officer of Beacon Health Systems in South Bend, IN, Diane Stover has delivered patient experience improvement by using a patient-centered strategy. Working toward improving the holistic patient experience, Stover gives organization-wide recommendations based on insight gained from every level of the facilities. In a highly perceptive approach to reviewing the obstetrics program, Stover decided to speak to the team of people who have the last interaction with parents leaving the hospital with a newborn: the valet attendants. She asked them what they say to departing parents. Some said, "Drive safe, take care of that baby," but one said, "See you in nine months." No one had clearly defined this interaction, so the valet attendants made it up and often said the wrong thing.
Beacon decided to write a script to ensure a positive final interaction with new parents. At first they came to "Take care of that beautiful baby"; however, a nurse pointed out that if the baby had a cleft palate it could be misconstrued as sarcasm. So they revised the script until they reached "Take care of that precious baby." Taking this deep level of care and empathy in defining such a seemingly small detail not only empowered the valet attendants to understand how powerful their words can be, it illustrates an important lesson: that all interactions are a part of shaping the patient experience. To successfully curate the future of healthcare, we must continue investing the deep level of empathy for positive human interactions as we do into designing medical devices.
The future of healthcare will be won by those who put patients first, who think about patients as customers of healthcare. Again, this core value— always put your users first—is long understood in the design community. A good way to think about it is to design these experiences looking through three lenses: beauty, ingenuity and charisma. While we may not often think of medical products as beautiful, there is no reason not to; their expression in form and detail have the power to inspire and comfort. Ingenuity solves for problems of use and manufacture, and charisma draws people to a product because of a true understanding of need. The trick is an uncompromising commitment to all three lenses in every solution and product designed.
With the widespread consciousness shift seen in healthcare organizations toward understanding the importance of focusing on positive patient experience, I believe that this is incredibly exciting time for design leadership to be brought to the table.
Let me pose a final question, hinted at in the first paragraph: Suppose instead of computers, Apple decided to make medical devices. What would a medical device suite from Apple look like? More importantly, how would it feel? What would it feel like to have the same emotional connection, excitement and curiosity toward a suite of medical devices as we do toward the Apple devices we know and love today? Isn’t it time that we demand rich emotional experiences from medical products, products that truly make a difference in our lives and well-being? These are the questions that we explore everyday as designers because we believe that meaningful designs possessing beauty, ingenuity and charisma hold an important role for our future healthcare system.