iTeams & Design-Thinking Can Help Providers Realize Quick Wins

Inspired by design-thinking, Dr. Joon Yun of Palo Alto Investors, asked in a recent Forbes article, “If Steve Jobs were redesigning hospitals, what would he have done?”

Here are just three of Dr. Yun’s design suggestions on how and where to improve providers’ quality of care:

  • Eliminate doorknobs in medical establishments. Germ theory and knob-less doors have both been around forever.
  • Pharmacies are a terrible bottleneck in hospitals. Centralized dispensing pharmacies increase drug delivery time by 50%. Do you want your hospital pharmacist to feel rushed?
  • Disease doesn’t respect office hours. Yet hospital staffing is typical of the Monday-through-Friday, 9am-to-5pm American working culture.  Studies show that patients who enter the hospital with stroke or heart disease at night or on weekends have higher mortality than midweek, 9am-5pm admissions. It’s hard to understand why such straightforward ways to improve patient mortality outcomes are overlooked.

What Is “Design-Thinking”?

Design-thinking is a human-centered, integrative approach to problem-solving that uses the following principles:


Watch people interacting with your product or service. Look for reactions, pain-points, and “bugs”. Where is there frustration, excitement, or confusion?

Example: Sit it in an ER waiting room and watch what people do before they are able to be seen. What would make this experience more pleasant for someone who may spend the next six hours waiting to be treated?

Often times, designers try to create solutions for what people are already trying to accomplish rather than creating solutions that require behavioral change by the user. Designers understand that behavior is one of the most difficult things to change.


Feel and experience deeply what it is like for the patient by putting yourself in their shoes. You’ll discover new ways to improve how a patient interacts with your product.

Example: Wear a mask and use a CPAP machine for a night to experience what it is like for someone living with sleep apnea.

Beginner’s Mind

Forget what you’ve learned and look at something like you’ve never seen it before.

Example: If you’re an expert in using EMR, think of what it would be like if you’ve never seen the system before. Is your EMR really intuitive?

Failing Forward

Do not be stigmatized if you fail when designing something new. Wear it as a badge of honor. Learn from it and move on.

Example: When implementing an IVR system, users found the system to be impersonal. Failure. Now, figure out how to humanize it.

Extreme Users

Extreme users, the oddballs, and those who are using products to solve problems in ways they weren’t originally intended are the people who come up with breakthrough ideas.

Example: Someone in the Middle Ages thought to put moldy bread on flesh wounds. It was later discovered that mold contains penicillin.


Go for quantity of ideas, suspend your judgment for later, and go for the most outlandish ideas one can think of. Make analogies and metaphors. Look to other industries for inspiration.

Example: Utilize label processing method by writing each solution concept on a sticky note. Then force like items together by putting the sticky notes on a whiteboard into 5-7 (no more) buckets. Watch how quickly patterns emerge.


Create low-cost prototypes out of cardboard to roughly mimic a product, or mock-up a service experience.

Example: Pretend someone comes to the information booth near the entrance of the hospital. Design what that booth looks like, what services are offered, what the person working in the booth would be trained to say or do, and get volunteers to act it out.


Once prototypes are developed, test them, fix them, and test them again. Do this as many times as economically feasible within your time constraints.

Example: Create a prototype for your hospital’s web portal. Watch end-users interact with the prototype. Refine it. Test it again. Improve the end-user experience upon each iteration.


The inner kid inside you can be your best weapon. Have fun, get outside of your normal environment, and aim for solutions that make you feel the most healthy, vibrant, and alive. Playfulness, whimsy, and the unexpected will delight end-users when done tastefully.

Example: CHOP partnered with the Ryan Seacrest Foundation to create a closed circuit broadcasting station called THE VOICE in the lobby of the Children’s Hospital. Children can broadcast their shows to others in the hospital and it also serves to host guest performances.


The goal is to see as a designer would – to reimagine a product, a service, a process, or an experience to be the ideal. It begins with observing people’s behavior, how they interact with a product or service, and followed by intense ideation sessions to brainstorm a multitude of divergent ideas. The best ideas are then quickly modeled with low-cost prototypes or mock-ups, and lastly, the top design is iterated upon until all design flaws are worked out.

Design-thinking is different than the traditional approach which is to optimize the current solution, but this tends to focus on one side of the value equation (typically the cost side). If value=benefits divided by costs, trying to wring more efficiencies out of the current solution to drive down cost has diminishing returns and tends to create underwhelming results.

Further, the traditional approach to improving services doesn’t consider how a person feels about a product or the emotional benefits. Take the example of a woman choosing which hospital to have her firstborn child delivered. This is a highly important decision. She is making the first major medical decision that affects her child and this elicits strong emotions. Harnessing emotions and using design-thinking to react empathetically is increasingly important in creating hospital services. The Prentice Women’s Hospital in Chicago used design-thinking to do just that. They aim to provide end-to-end antepartum and postpartum services in a calming environment. One can even take a virtual tour on their website.

Each hospital – the physical building as well as its people, processes, and technology are an extension of the hospital’s brand. Each time a patient interacts with any part of this system, they are building their own perceptions. Your hospital’s ratings depend on your capacity to solve problems with design-thinking.

By training people across different disciplines in design-thinking skills and assembling cross-functional innovation teams or “iTeams”, providers can empower their employees to solve problems in a new way – one that makes things more human, more enjoyable, and more intuitive.


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