Service Design In Healthcare

On Monday night, professor Jon Freach walked us through the way finding design project that he led at MD Anderson.  The project started as a signage, and quickly evolved to something much more complex and thorough – Jon’s crowning achievement in service design; a three year, multi-million dollar deal to redefine how patients interacted with MD Anderson.

To me, projects like Jon’s are key examples of the power of design to shape and mold healthcare innovation going forward.  Yes, we have the best medical technologies and doctors in the world; in and of themselves, they are powerful drivers of the economy and the health of millions.  Yet the areas of deep improvement plie in the interim – when patients are not in front of that provider, or aren’t using that device.  The problems lie in a lack of service design; a lack of communication and “syncing” up of the patient experience over time.  We need better, smarter systems that incorporate common sense ideas of social workers, caregivers, and the patients themselves in addition to the expertise of these providers and technology companies.

MD Anderson is a world renowned medical center in Houston, TX.  It is also massive and imposing, which tends to cause anxiety all along the way of the patient journey.  Jon’s goal was to counter these not only with clear signage and interactions throughout the actual hospital experience, but to think more holistically and systemically about the entire patient journey too and from Anderson.  Using combinations of design research techniques, such as participatory interviews and contextual inquiries, Jon was able to map back Anderson touch points to the initial patient PCP visit, discovering areas for opportunities to reduce patient anxiety all along the way.  These touch points manifested themselves in a service design blueprint – quite literally a blueprint – that was shared and modified over time by ALL key stakeholders.

What ensued was magical.  A redesign of signage and communication that removed the need to say “right or left” and that referenced unofficial landmarks of the hospital noted by patients.  A program to teach all hospital staff how to talk about directions.  A software program to help manage signage by showing what was linked to what if something needed changing.  New “paths” for patients to follow that didn’t have them walking by the morgue.  Unheard of collaboration across stakeholder groups to get things done based on the design research findings.

In the coming weeks, we will start to use the tools that Jon did, such as service design blueprinting, to map out our potential future services (while we most likely will include a service offering).  We will start with a field trip to Frog Design on Monday, 11/26, which will serve as home base as we explore local business services around the area.  I can see the benefits of this working document to keep our group on the same page, as well as to guide us through iterations of business model generation.  I can’t wait to begin!