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Enhancing the Patient Experience: How can Life Sciences Companies Use Design Thinking to Deliver Better Outcomes

Enhancing the Patient Experience: How can Life Sciences Companies Use Design Thinking to Deliver Better Outcomes
Abhishek Shankar - Vice President – Life sciences and Healthcare | March 29, 2018
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Back in the early 2000s, GE’s industrial designer Doug Dietz was proud to have come up with the latest model of an MRI scanner that he spent two long years designing and configuring with advanced features and technology. One day, he witnessed a young couple in the hallway at their wits end trying to console their seven-year-old daughter, who was weeping because she had to make her way toward the new MRI scanner! Doug suddenly saw the situation through the eyes of the girl. “The room itself is kind of dark and has those flickering fluorescent lights,” he remembers in his TED talk. He adds, “That machine that I had designed basically looked like a brick with a hole in it. It looks like a huge stapler and is terrifying for any kid to go through.” Doug took up the challenge and after thorough study and research, he leveraged empathic design thinking to come up with the first-ever ‘Adventure Series’ scanner – a visual transformation of the earlier equipment into a pirate-themed fun environment where children are scanned in a specialized sleeping bag under a starry sky in an impressive camp setting. The transformation brought about by design thinking had tremendous impact on the company’s revenues with the patient satisfaction score improving by more than 90%; this also marked GE’s entry into the world of design thinking.

The design thinking- and experience-led transformation highlights an emerging trend across the life sciences and healthcare industry to improve the patient experience through innovative design. As digitally empowered consumers become better informed, and seek personalized and accountable care and treatment that delivers intended outcomes, this trend of design thinking process is only going to become stronger.

Accordingly, the industry has to shift from a drug development-oriented value proposition to a patient-centric one. Of course, you must shorten the product lifecycle, reduce time to market, slash costs, and so on. However, all those imperatives now must be relooked at afresh, from an execution standpoint, keeping in mind the actual requirements of your end customer: patients.

Understanding patients better…

Before optimizing or overhauling existing operating models for increased patient centricity, you have to first frame the problem statement effectively, i.e., capture patient needs comprehensively, through a design thinking process. To begin with, better engage with individual patients in an authentic manner, across various touch points, including clinical trials, diagnosis, and treatment. It will help you develop a granular understanding of the actual requirements of users of your existing and upcoming drugs.

…With design thinking

This is where design thinking can help you interact one-on-one with patients, and identify the various pain points related to their experiences across the healthcare journey. Framing the problem accurately can, in turn, help you adopt a human-centric approach toward developing user-friendly, outcome-driven, and sustainable products and services.

Six-step roadmap for designing relevant patient experiences

Here is a six-step roadmap for you to consider as you seek to transform patient experiences with design thinking, and deliver improved care outcomes:

Transform patient experiences with design thinking, and deliver improved care outcomes.

First, define the target audience, the specific engagement setting, and the patient assessment criteria. The context setting of the design thinking process-led transformation lies as the foundation of the experiment and should be carefully measured and prioritized for the right business impact.

Second, define the scope of research with regard to collecting observation-based data points, conducting patient interviews, scanning relevant historic trends, and undertaking secondary research to harness associated consumer insights.

Here, you must diligently map the patient journey to capture all aspects of your interactions with them, including the way they relate to in-treatment experiences. For instance, observing someone undergoing clinical dialysis or interviewing people purchasing health insurance would enable you to better appreciate different customer needs and launch the design thinking process. Simultaneously, you could tap into contextual research for discovering patients’ goals, motivations, and behavior.

Once the target area and research brief for the design thinking process have been finalized, you get down to defining different user archetypes, or patient personas, around which various products and services will be designed. This will be the third step of the patient experience design thinking methodology-led transformation exercise, which requires focused workshop/interactions with the user sample to unravel their experience across each step of the process. It is important here to frame the problem statements clearly, i.e., what exact issues patients face across their care journey.

Having understood patients’ needs and motivations, you then embark on the fourth phase of the design thinking methodology-led experience transformation, namely ideation and design of probable solutions.

A crucial part of the design phase is analyzing the data points concerning both the positive and negative experiences of patients. This would primarily focus on two criteria – value chain analysis and transaction analysis. For the value chain assessment, the process is segregated into value-led steps which are then mapped to the respective user experience (satisfied, long/over-hauling, confused/unaware, etc.) based on user feedback. The process is, thus, understood on the parts that need experience transformation or need turnaround reduction. The process is then granulated further into each constituent user interaction (or, as we call it, transaction) to model a to-be process map. Each transaction is then evaluated on an impact-control matrix to arrive at the significance-dependency of the same on the value chain, thus arriving at the transactions that need to be either automated, integrated, or eliminated altogether. The final set of transactions that emerge, in turn, construct the to-be process map that the user desires to experience.

The designed process map then requires to be developed into high-level, visual, fidelity prototypes of the most promising possibilities. Create storyboards and wireframes for designing the new process steps and to-be experiences, and prioritize on an ongoing basis, based on emerging findings.

For example, Eli Lilly has begun a collaborative program called CoLAB to simulate trial protocols. The pharmaceutical major’s clinical research teams gather inputs relating to trial elements such as study visits and samples from patients, study coordinators, physicians, and other stakeholders. Accordingly, Lilly simulates both the site and patient experience, addressing pain points like dose modifications, screening, baseline visits, etc.

The sixth and final phase of the patient experience transformation journey is for you to validate the prototype if it meets actual patient needs. This ideally needs focused workshop with the user sample to arrive at their validation of the transformed process. It also requires a business-led evaluation for commercial and technical feasibility. Once that is in place, you can iterate the prototype configuration to design interactions and processes that reflect evolving patient goals and requirements.

Final thoughts

The importance of design in consumers’ lives is only going to increase in the coming years, across different industries, products, and services. Healthcare and life sciences will be no different. As your patients demand personalized care and attention, you will have to step up to the plate in delivering compelling, empathetic experiences – driven by design thinking – for better outcomes.


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