Tomorrow’s Medicine brings you highlights from the SingHealth Quality & Innovation Day: Building a Better Tomorrow – Transforming Patient Care, 12 February 2015 at Academia.

Healthcare is complex and involves multiple disciplines.   It is always transforming and faces many paradigm shifts that require a fresh way of thinking.   Because it deals mainly with people’s lives, healthcare also demands a high degree of empathy from those involved in it. All these fit naturally to design thinking for innovation.

So what is design thinking, exactly? Lekshmy Parameswaran, Director of Insights Research and Strategy at Fuelfor Healthcare Design & Consulting, explains: “Design thinking is a creative method to unpack and reframe complex problems in order to generate innovative, people-focused solutions. Design thinking applies a designer’s sensibility and methods to problem solving. On top of being analytical and objective, you have to be empathic and flexible.”

There exist other methods to improve quality, such as Lean Six Sigma. Design thinking comes in as a complimentary method that can take projects one step further to innovation. “It provides a common language for a multidisciplinary team,” Lekshmy adds, “And from our experience, multidisciplinary teams seem to generate greater impact and momentum around Design Thinking initiatives in an organisation.”

Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC) Nurse Clinician Audrey Kon works with a team of clinicians, nurses, allied health professionals and administrators to apply design thinking in improving patient experience in an SNEC clinic. The first part of the process involved three days of field work and shadowing patients – making the healthcare team walk in the patients’ shoes, even bringing chopped onions to a role-play to simulate the discomfort a patient experiences.

Audrey said, “It’s not only about the brain, it’s a lot about the heart. It allows us to walk the journey our patients go through.   By understanding the data and insights from our patients, we know better what the patients experience.”


The key principles of Design Thinking

1. Understand: Healthcare is a human experience and people are on an emotional journey, not in a medical process. Empowering people to tell their stories reveals deeper insights from patients, next-of-kin and staff. Thinking by visualing helps to unpack the complexity of healthcare. Tools that can be utilised in this phase include observation, diary kits, interviews, and journey-mapping.

2. Explore: zoom in and out of the problem space. Create solutions that can fit the healthcare ecosystem. Design solutions that fit the context of people’s everyday lives.

3. Test: Prototype and test new healthcare experiences with stakeholders to refine the solution. Connect human experiences to clear metrics to measure impact and Return On Investment. Tools that can be utilised in this phase include role-playing, paper prototypes and physical mockups.  

Lekshmy advises, “Keep in mind that a patient waiting in a clinic has a life outside the clinic.   We need to give them an experience and design solutions that take that into account – bringing an experience that fit in their lives as a whole.”

Dr Chow Mun Hong, Director of SingHealth Innovation & Quality Management and Organising Chairman of this year’s Quality & Innovation Day, said, “To build a medical centre that is truly patient-centric, we need to empathise with our patients and go through their journeys.

“The tools we can use are many. But it’s not about one set of tools versus another – they all answer the need for us to improve. The challenge now is to go out and do something with these ideas.”