Powell & Associates
Solving complex health care challenges through human-centered design.
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Leadership primer

Human-Centered Design Primer 

Human-centered design (HCD) is an important business tool in a rapidly changing patient population and business landscape. 

What are the benefits of human-centered design?

Businesses and social entrepreneurs have used human-centered design for decades to create solutions for many different types of challenges. A comprehensive design process will be strategic, engaging, tactical, and influential. Proctor & Gamble, Bayer, PepsiCo, IBM, Mayo Clinic, and Kaiser Permanente have all implemented design-led approaches to develop their services, products, and the workforce culture. 

Human-centered design puts the users of the system as central to the problem-solving process. This allows us to solve around the problems that real people face. HCD connects directly to people’s feelings and experiences to change the conversation—bringing purposeful and informed changes to inform new processes and system features. It creates an effective way to engage a community, improves collaboration,creates more creative confidence and generates a sense of joy as stakeholders engage in a new way.  

Design-led processes reduce risk by identifying system requirements, then developing and refining a set of metrics as part of the patient/provider engagement. We collect specific data that ties to patient experience, level of authentic engagement across stakeholder groups and clinical/business health and process outcomes. Testing and iteration processes follow, which limits risk and provides flexibility while focusing on solving the challenges of our rapidly changing cultural and business environments. 


Developing a value proposition for human-centered design.

Here are questions to consider in developing a value proposition for launching a human-centered design initiative: 

1. What business/strategic goals do you have where multiple stakeholders and processes/systems are involved and no clear methods or approaches are in place to meet these goals?

2. What large or complex problems is your community, sector, or health system experiencing where there are no clear solutions to reducing waste, improving access, and/or improving care coordination? 

3. Where are you facing significant resistance to change where you need to approach the problem in a whole new way?

4. What reporting and or advisory or certification requirements would benefit from human-centered design, in particular mandates that include authentic stakeholder engagement that includes parents, patients, and/or caregivers? 

5. What funding opportunities encouraging patient/consumer engagement would welcome a proposal that includes human-centered design? 


How design thinking can transform health care.

Design thinking is a discipline that uses designers’ sensibility and methods—such as collective idea generation, rapid prototyping, and continuous testing—to match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible, provides customer value, and is a viable organizational strategy.

Patient input is often the best ingredient for true transformation. Take, for instance, the dialysis clinic in Jönköping, Sweden, which redesigned its facility to enable self-dialysis. While health care leaders on the project thought state-of-the-art beds and beautiful artwork would promote healing, patients encouraged them to forgo all that, buy cheap dialysis chairs, and allocate resources to exercise equipment so they could work out while undergoing treatment. No health-care professional thought of that—the patients did.

From NEJM Catalyst, Insights Report, June 7, 2018, How Design Thinking Can Transform Health Care


Design thinking is useful, so why aren’t more people using it?

“We’ve been looking at ways to change the traditional health system responses,” says Harry S. Strothers III, MD, MMM, Chief of Family Medicine, Navicent Health's Family Health Center. “While I would prefer to start from scratch to figure out the best result and design the system to get that result, in most situations you can’t do that.” 

Strothers credits Navicent’s Center for Disruption and Innovation for bringing design thinking to the hospital level. “The CEO understands that it’s important and there are different people within the system trying to use it,” he says. Like nearly half of respondents, Strothers says a limited understanding of design is a barrier, as well as insufficient training in design. “There are only a certain number of people who feel they are good at it, and only a limited number of resources who can help you do it,” he says.

“Design thinking starts at leadership but requires empowerment and trust in the people around you,”   

NEJM Catalyst: June 21, 2018, Design Thinking Is Useful, So Why Aren’t More People Using It?


How do I select a topic for human-centered design?

Ask yourself:

Where are you stuck? Where do you need to get out of the silo and the "it's just the way we do it" mentality?

What problems does your organization or community experience that are complex and broad, and can't be solved in the way you've done it in the past, often because they extend across organizational or cross service lines?  

In what areas of your community or health care system  do you have an engaged and inspired set of patients, caregivers, clinician, and administrators who will champion the design engagement?

Where are there funding  opportunities (philanthropy or inside your organization) that could be allocated to a design engagement?


How to build a design-driven culture. 

It’s not enough to just sell a product or service—companies must truly engage with their customers. Here’s how to embed experience design in your organization based on McKinsey & Company's, "Building a Design Driven Culture."

1. Really understanding the customer
Design-driven companies turn to ethnographers and cultural anthropologists (to find insights into human behaviors and feelings). These “empathy sleuths” conduct contextual one-on-one interviews, shopper-shadowing exercises, and “follow me homes” to observe, listen, and learn how people actually use and experience products. They plot out customer decision journeys to understand exactly what motivates people, what bothers them, and where there are opportunities for creating delightful experiences.

2. Bring empathy to the organization
Raising the design capabilities of a company requires moving customer empathy beyond the skill set of a design team to permeate all areas of the business. Solidifying this design approach requires, among other things, metrics that focus on the customer. Customer satisfaction and retention are standard measures, but key performance indicators should include, for example, customer lifetime value, real-time customer satisfaction by segment, and “leaky bucket” ratios to highlight where customer issues may be spiking. The goal is to track the depth of the relationship between customer and brand over time.

3. Designing in real time
Developing any customer journey requires input from many functions. These functions should work together to make decisions, ensure that the designed journey aligns with the business strategy and is delivering value, and keep customer experience a top-of-mind issue.

4. Act quickly
Good design is fast. That means getting a product to market quickly, which depends on rapid prototyping, frequent iteration, and adjustments based on real customer feedback. In a design-driven culture, companies are unafraid to release a product that is not totally perfect. That means going to market with a minimally viable product, the better to learn from customer feedback, incorporate it, and then build and release the next version.

Link to the full article: Building a Design-driven Culture