Leveraging Design Thinking in Healthcare to Drive Innovation | UpTop Health

How to Use Design Thinking in Your Healthcare Organization to Drive Innovation

7 min read

In an increasingly competitive market, you know your healthcare company can’t afford to stagnate. Innovation is the key to staying one step ahead of your competitors. But actually innovating is much easier said than done. Many firms invest in innovation initiatives only to struggle and wind up with disappointing results.

If you want to drive innovation, then you must start by changing your organization’s mindset. And the best way to do that is with something called design thinking.

Chances are you’ve heard of design thinking. Perhaps you’ve even given it a try. If so, you may have decided that it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. The truth is that design thinking does have the power to meaningfully spur innovation. But in order to see the benefits, your entire organization must be ready to embrace the speed, agility, and flexibility necessary to pull it off.

What is Design Thinking — and Why is it so Useful?

Design thinking is a unique methodology that facilitates creative problem-solving in the workplace. It manifests as an agile, collaborative process that enables teams to rapidly iterate as they work toward increasingly useful and innovative solutions. Design thinking tends to produce such fruitful results because it is so focused on the human element of any given problem. It takes as its starting point the needs of end-users — or the internal stakeholders — who stand to benefit from a particular product, process, or solution.

The design thinking methodology consists of five steps:

  1. Building empathy with the end-user. The more teams understand their key stakeholders’ needs and behaviors, the more likely they are to identify solutions that best address those needs.
  2. Defining the problem. The design thinking mindset encourages participants to look at a problem from multiple angles and avoid taking perceived constraints for granted.
  3. Ideation. Brainstorming sessions emphasize divergent, or out-of-the-box, thinking.
  4. Prototyping. Prototyping allows teams to flesh out their ideas and bounce them off of key stakeholders in rapid succession.
  5. Testing. Finally, teams use testing (such as user testing) to validate the success of their ideas, discover issues, and vet solutions.

Teams may cycle through these steps multiple times as they explore new directions or opportunities and refine both their problems and solutions. The common thread between each step is speed. With design thinking, you want to move as quickly as you can to identify possible solutions and determine whether they are the right fit. If the answer is no, you should quickly discard it, synthesize the lessons learned, and apply them to the next iteration.

The Benefits of Design Thinking

By adopting design thinking, your organization stands to:

  • Unlock your team’s creativity
  • Break down internal silos and pre-existing assumptions
  • Avoid an organizational bias toward the “status quo”
  • Achieve greater internal alignment
  • Increase operational efficiency
  • Gain the ability to look at problems from multiple angles and perspectives
  • Ground your organization’s perspective and priorities in the needs of your key stakeholders
  • Craft superior customer experiences

Why Organizations Struggle to Effectively Harness Design Thinking

When business leaders first encounter design thinking, they tend to get pretty excited. At first glance, the design thinking process looks straightforward. Not only that, but the potential gains are obvious and significant. As if that wasn’t enough, the barrier to entry is relatively low. Organizations don’t have to invest in expensive new technologies or submit to time-intensive training programs in order to get started.

In practice, adopting design thinking isn’t quite as simple as it might appear. Too often, organizations jump headlong into it without first understanding what design thinking will require of them.

Divergent thinking — or creative thinking that intentionally seeks out-of-the-box solutions — is at the heart of design thinking. Which means that the methodology doesn’t obediently remain within the confines of an organization’s existing technology, headcount, skill sets, and budget. Nor does it stay within the guard rails of institutionalized processes. It’s in design thinking’s nature to question the status quo.

So when organizations initiate design thinking, they almost always uncover underlying issues related to people, process, technology, and culture. For example, let’s say you are using design thinking in your healthcare organization to reimagine a payer’s member portal. As your team identifies innovative new solutions, you may discover that your existing technology doesn’t support your vision. Or that your existing customer care processes are in conflict with your proposed solution. Those issues, which frequently touch on all corners of an organization’s operations, must be resolved in order to clear a path for design thinking to run its course.

On a related note, organizations that want to invest in design thinking must be prepared to pursue innovation at the expense of efficiency (at least in the short term). Innovation is inherently profligate on the front end. It always entails some level of disruption, risk, and waste during the exploration phase. It’s not a perfectly efficient process with known outcomes. Organizations that are too risk-averse to embrace this truth will struggle to fully realize the value of design thinking.

What Happens When the Status Quo Stands in the Way of Design Thinking

As a result of these realities, design thinking can seem more threatening than thrilling. That’s especially true for organizations (or individual staff) that are deeply committed to “the way we’ve always done things.” That’s understandable. Design thinking almost always rocks the boat in uncomfortable ways and demands deeper-than-expected operational or structural changes.

It often goes like this: An organization decides to take the leap with design thinking without laying the proper foundation first. They try to take on a major project — think on the scale of a digital transformation — and ultimately bite off more than they can chew. They fail to address root issues that often become major stumbling blocks. Or, they don’t phase the project out in a manner that enables them to get quick wins and gain credibility along the way. In both scenarios, fatigue builds and interest in the initiative flags as the promised outcomes fail to materialize.

The takeaway? Design thinking will almost certainly look like a failure unless your entire organization buys into the process — and is ready and willing to make some difficult decisions.

The Right Partner Can Help Your Organization Drive Innovation with Design Thinking

Much like trying to read the label from inside a jar, it can be hard for organizations to see what’s standing in their way when it comes to successfully adopting design thinking. A seasoned external partner can provide organizations with the perspective shift necessary to fully leverage design thinking and drive innovation.

At UpTop, we help our clients embrace design thinking by guiding them through every step of the process. In the initial workshop and discovery activities, we lead organizations in identifying and reframing their problems in a way that aligns with business objectives, technical considerations, and user goals.

Next, we help them prioritize by doing impact versus effort assessments through the lens of investment, user benefits, and technical effort. This allows us to lead cross-functional teams in aligning around the highest-value items and identifying any underlying structural issues that must first be addressed.

From there, we work with our clients to create a phased plan that allows for quick wins. This builds momentum and confidence as you work toward more significant changes on the path to innovation.

Interested in learning more about how UpTop can help your organization innovate with design thinking? Drop us a line.