Ado Omerhodzic

Posted on 1st November 2021

Health Design Thinking

news-paper News | Product Management | Service Design |

In the past few years, we have experienced rapidly evolving patient journeys. The patients are becoming more empowered and take a more active role in their health and decision-making processes, often with the support of technology. Research has however shown that many new implementations in healthcare lack a patient and service perspective. We have reviewed Health Design Thinking (2020) by Ellen Lupton and Bon Ku to find out how we can design better health services.

Patients as co-creators

Many times when organizations make interventions and design new services, whether online or onsite, it happens from a top-down approach. But the process of Health Design Thinking requires an approach rooted in Human-Centered Design and Ergonomics, which acknowledges diversity among human bodies and abilities. The top-down approach can sometimes ignore the skills, beliefs, and priorities of the people they want to serve.

While it is important to understand the people you want to design for and show empathy to the community, it is also vital to not view the people you design for with pity and prejudice. This can create a distance between the designers or healthcare professionals and the patients they are trying to serve. Instead, patients should be viewed as collaborators and co-creators. Patients come with invaluable design insights, as they understand their own experiences better than anyone else.

It is also important to see the context of the patient, for example understanding how lower-income patients’ living conditions and environment can impact their needs and journey. Observation is a good method for doing so, but also by collaborating with the patient.

Workshops, role-play and photos

A great way to collaborate with patients is to create a safe space for them to express their feelings and ideas. This can be accomplished through workshops and brainstorming. Brainstorming sessions encourage patients to come with ideas without worrying about if they come up with solutions. Having participants note their ideas individually before voicing them aloud will ensure that all ideas are heard and one idea does not overtake the session. A workshop should not only include the patients but also other stakeholders, such as healthcare providers, caregivers, and designers. Workshops should have a specified goal and allow time for introductions, open communications, and informal discovery.

An effective way to engage the participants and have them think outside the box is by doing role-play. Healthcare providers tend to have strict role descriptions and obligations and having them step out of that familiar role can trigger more creativity in the workshop.

Using other methods, such as interviews where the patient brings a photo journal, can provide rich information for your research. The patient can provide certain photos that they have taken throughout the day to describe aspects of their days or describe certain people. This will help the designer gain deeper insight into the life of the patient.

Patient Journey Mapping

To better understand the stages the patient is going through while experiencing the healthcare services, the participants can work with graphic representations of the different stages. This is usually referred to as Customer Journey Mapping or in this case; Patient Journey Mapping. The knowledge gained from a patient’s journey can help the designer to design services that optimize the experience and generate value for both the patient and the healthcare provider. An advantage of Patient Journey Mapping is that you look at the entire picture instead of focusing on unique touchpoints.

A less formal way of working with visual representations is with storyboards. Storyboards often have a comic-strip style and convey emotions and action better than text descriptions. And there’s no need to be an artist to get involved.

Understanding movement

Although the patient journey is often a hybrid between online and onsite touchpoints,  most of the healthcare is still happening in-person, and there needs to be an understanding of how nurses, doctors, patients, and visitors move around the floors to create better health services.

By using occupancy surveys, spatial data maps, and spatial journey maps, the movement of equipment and people can be tracked across the floors. It can also give a better overview of how doctors and nurses occupy spaces in rooms. This can help us understand how to design layouts of rooms and spaces or guide staff and patients throughout the hospital. It can also help us see the bottlenecks in hospitals and where signage needs to be improved, by for example implementing process maps.

The human behind the role

Health Design Thinking helps us uncover the deeper needs of patients and healthcare workers while co-creating and collaborating with them, but it’s also a good reminder that the patient is a role a person has in connection to healthcare. There is also a life in between appointments where the patient is not a patient. Understanding that aspect is just as essential when doing human-centered design.


Health Design Thinking: Creating Products and Services for Better Health (The MIT Press)