Patient experiences may drive a growth adventure
12. May 2015
Our healthcare sector is about to undergo a revolutionising transformation, and for the first time, the changes are going to take place on the patients’ terms. This is not just good news for the health of the Danish population – it may also provide a platform for innovation, growth and job creation.

Many of us who have had dealings with the Danish healthcare sector in recent years have encountered a sector that has been operating on very tight budgets. At the same time, we are faced with the prospect of an ageing population and more complex morbidity.

In this situation, however, we are also seeing another major shift: Demand is changing. Patients and relatives are no longer willing to be conveyed through the healthcare system as machine components on an assembly line, at the risk of losing control over their own life and dignity. Today’s patients are well informed and knowledgeable and refuse to act as passive recipients. They are better educated than ever before, and they have access to technologies and media that have the potential to empower them in their interactions with the system – as individuals and in association with other patients. They expect to be treated as equals. They want health benefits and services that place them, the patients, centre stage.

The world's best mother-and-child hospital
This trend formed part of the premise when the Juliane Marie Centre at the large regional hospital Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen recently set out to determine what it would take to build a world-class mother-and-child hospital. This projected hospital should serve as a model for an individually oriented and family-centred approach to women and children, where patient care, research, education and business development form an integrated whole. The team behind the Juliane Marie Centre is guided by a set of fundamental user-centred principles. Their work began with two key questions: What should the patient process be like? What should the user experience be like in the hospital of the future? The team asked children, families and healthcare professionals to answer these questions and share their ideas for the services and workings of the hospital.

“It is more economical to design hospital processes around patient needs rather than professional specialities or technological possibilities”

Christian Bason

As one consequence of this process, in the future, the doctor will go to see the patient, not the other way round. Another key principle is that children should experience the hospital as a place with room for play.

It is well documented by now that it is more economical to design hospital processes around patient needs rather than professional specialities or technological possibilities. If the healthcare sector manages to plan services that accommodate individuals, hand the control back to the patients and use the resources that all patients have, we not only stand to reap health benefits but will also see a positive impact on the bottom line. For example, Rigshospitalet’s Cardiology Department saved DKK 4 million in operating costs by focusing on meaningful patient experiences and planning their service on this basis. Oslo University Hospital has reduced the waiting time for breast cancer diagnoses by 90 percent by optimising the process from the patient’s perspective.

The political decision-makers are also calling for solutions that place the patients centre stage. Last year, Danish Regions launched the initiative Borgernes sundhedsvæsen – vores sundhedsvæsen (The citizens’ healthcare service – our healthcare service), which is driven by the notion that the healthcare service is a visitor in the patients’ life – not the other way round. Healthcare policies are no longer exclusively about trimming the processes but about providing meaningful and health-promoting patient experiences while also keeping the costs under control.

Does design have the capacity to release the growth potential?
This shift in paradigm has far-reaching consequences. Hospitals, primary healthcare providers/GPs and regional and municipal administrations have to cooperate more closely. The new partnerships are going to lead to increased demand for integrated solutions – including a smart use of new technologies and data. This development enables competitive advantages in a commercial market that is going to continue to be driven by efficiency initiatives but which is also increasingly going to demand holistic solutions that are centred on patient needs.

That is not only the case in Denmark but also in the growing global healthcare market, which places new demands on the companies.

“Designers are equipped to challenge the apparent dilemmas that healthcare is facing”

Christian Bason

At the intersection between the commercial sector and the public healthcare sector, design methods can play a crucial value-creating and facilitating role.

One of the fundamental principles in taking a design-driven approach to complex issues is to translate and communicate the users’ world and make it concrete, with visualisation as one of the means. Because design methods make it possible to undertake rapid experiments to test solutions with patients and staff, design can serve as a catalyst for cooperation between healthcare experts and the commercial sector. Designers are equipped to challenge the apparent dilemmas that healthcare is facing: How do we design a healthcare service that is both economically efficient and satisfying on a human level? Designers can help ensure a better and broader use of data, make healthcare technology more user-friendly and intuitive and achieve integration across professional and organisational silos. Thus, design has rich contributions to make to public sector innovation. However, the growth potential in the designers’ contribution is only released when the companies are brought in. In this regard, too, the Juliane Marie Centre is promising to become a role model.

Inviting the companies into the engine room
With the Juliane Marie Centre, Rigshospitalet not only aims to have a world-class hospital once construction is completed. In their ambition to be among the ten leading hospitals in the world, they are therefore establishing a lab where researchers, universities, designers, entrepreneurs and companies will be invited in to take part in the ongoing development of hospital services. The Juliane Marie Centre has already established strategic partnerships with companies like LEGO, Philips, Experimentarium and the eye-tracking specialists Tobii. The companies are given access to the engine room – to the healthcare professionals’ competencies and professional expertise – in recognition of the fact that this offers a shortcut to innovative solutions that maintain the patient focus and ensure high technological standards at the hospital. Unless we invite the companies behind the scenes, how are they ever going to develop solutions that meet the needs of both patients and healthcare professionals?

Facilitating this encounter of two different worlds is a difficult discipline. It is going to take an open mind to understand both sides and make sure that ultimately, the focus is on meeting the patients’ needs.

The healthcare sector's answer to MobilePay

Recent years have seen a whole range of public-private innovation partnerships (OPI) and triple-helix constellations. Unfortunately, the results, measured on actual impact, broad implementation and business growth have been mixed. In light of the current acceleration of development, we need dynamic and versatile partnerships. Research has to interact more efficiently with the healthcare professionals’ expertise, modern management methods and organisation, new technologies and in-depth user insights. Companies on any scale – including the pharmaceutical and medical industries – should engage in a shared effort to develop marketable solutions, and legal red tape should not be allowed to stifle innovation.

“Purchases made in the healthcare sector should be an underlying engine driving the effort”

Christian Bason

A condition is that the public sector allows for less restrictive and more flexible innovation processes. The substantial purchases made in the healthcare sector should be an underlying engine driving the effort to make sure that the efforts lead to commercialisation, market reach, exports, growth and jobs.

Designers bring professional skills and expertise to the table that can help release the potential of the new partnerships. Denmark has a strong design industry with qualifications in service design, strategic design and digital solutions. Among other examples, Danish design competencies were instrumental in creating the successful Department of Cardiology at Rigshospitalet, the Danish firm Designit created radical process improvements in Oslo, and the team behind the new children’s hospital at the Juliane Marie Centre also includes design competencies. If designers want to play key a role, they may need to improve their understanding of the workings of the public healthcare service and explore new ways of engaging in private-public partnerships with strict legal guidelines for bidding and purchasing procedures. In the past, designers have proven that they are capable of creating superior digital solutions that place the users centre stage, also in industries with strict legal requirements, such as the financial sector. Perhaps the healthcare sector’s answer to MobilePay could emerge in a similar partnership?

A new growth adventure
There are many indications that a stronger emphasis on patients has a commercial potential. At the DDC, Denmark’s national design centre, we have therefore recently launched a new strategic platform for growth driven by healthcare design. In this area, we see three initiatives that could make a crucial difference in turning the new emphasis on patient experiences into another growth adventure.

  • First, there should be a national programme for testing new and agile collaboration formats involving companies, healthcare professionals and designers – with close links to innovative public tenders.
  • Second, we should be even more dedicated and systematic in our efforts to market Denmark as an attractive test market for new solutions where companies from outside Denmark can get close to their buyers, and where they will have access to world-class design competencies.
  • And finally, we should focus on the development of holistic solutions that can be marketed as concepts for both the domestic and the global market. A sort of turnkey approach that includes everything required, for example to run a cardiology department (technology, logistics, organisation, procedures etc.).

And overall, we need a national player that is going to help accelerate the healthcare revolution and who can see the inherent growth potential in providing a coherent and holistic patient experience. With that, we will be ready to take on the challenge.

First published on Mandag Morgens blog