Jonathan O'Donnell | 02.02.17 | Insights

How to Design Human-Centered Healthcare Products and Services


  • healthcare
  • service design

You have a passion for people, and you’re ready to create or improve a healthcare product that serves your patients, customers, or community. But how can you minimize risk or wasted effort, and maximize your chances for success? How do you choose among the many paths or tools before you? I suggest you start with service design.

Whether you are a researcher trying to characterize a complex problem, an innovator seeking to improve an organization’s care delivery, or an entrepreneur working hard to make something from nothing, service design will propel your idea forward.

All healthcare innovators face a similar pathway to success:

  1. Define the problem fully
  2. Propose solutions to that problem
  3. Scale the best solution to reach as many people affected by the problem as possible

Let’s explore how to apply service design to healthcare along your own path.

1) Discover the problem
The first step in tackling any problem is to collect data about it, and the primary means to do so is through empathy for those affected. Data can be gathered through immersion, observation, interviewing, reading, and numerous other approaches in any number of settings. But there are so many stakeholders in healthcare, you can’t limit yourself to just one approach. The important insights to gather in your research include those pertaining to what people do and use, what people say and think, and what people feel and imagine. There are many tools and tactics to employ to get to the heart of the matter – like a service safari, diary studies, or bodystorming – but it all starts with empathy. It is no coincidence that empathy serves as the foundation of excellence in healthcare.

2) Define the problem
Now that you are inundated with high-quality data, what do you make of it? Data is the backbone of a new dawn in healthcare. You must synthesize it and identify novel opportunities, thus making meaning of the raw data to inform your budding solutions. This is where tools like User Personas and Journey Mapping can help crystallize and clarify the ecosystem surrounding your problem, and shed light on your next steps forward.

3) Develop a solution
Now it’s time to get your hands wet, and to take a stab at designing a solution to your well-defined problem. The goal here is limit how many resources you sink into development so that you don’t exceed your budget or timeline. Rather, you will create just enough of a tangible idea or product to give a user the ability to honestly react to your solution, provide insight through testing, and give you the gold nuggets that will get you closer to your successful solution. Healthcare is so complex with its many stakeholders. Service blueprinting, prototyping, and piloting is how service design gets it done.

4) Deliver your solution
After discovering and defining your problem, you’ve landed on a solution that works for your test group. Time to make it available to as many as we can! High-fidelity prototypes and simulations, guidebooks, roadmaps, and implementation maps are all ways to convey service design solutions for future-state implementation. And don’t forget to maintain a close connection to your users. They will continue to provide feedback to help make your product better and better.

What I outlined above is based on the Double Diamond, a design framework into which you can insert yourself and your work at any useful point. Already have a defined problem? Then jump into developing a solution. Don’t know where to start? Start by discovering the problem. It is a fluid, iterative process. But service design – just like healthcare – puts empathy at the heart, helping you get closer to your goals and your users’ goals.

So what are you waiting for? Healthcare needs you – now! Want to learn practically how to use service design? Download our ebook.

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