Empathy at the core
The concept of empathy “is at the core of design thinking," said Marty Vian, director of user experience at Fuse by Cardinal Health, the company's innovation center. “It's all about going out and exploring problems in context: If I understand what the patient or the physician is going through and can connect with their experience in a deep way, then I can draw on that empathy when I'm thinking of possible solutions." Vian said Fuse employs the design thinking methodology with healthcare organizations to “bring a fresh and unbiased perspective" to whatever concerns or issues those organizations might be facing.
Vian said empathy is one of the key differences with the concept of design thinking, since the approach is human-centered versus user-centered. User-centered design focuses on how to help people do their jobs or tasks better, easier and faster, whereas human-centered design focuses on how to help make people’s lives better.
Design thinking in practice
Design thinking, Vian said, often includes brainstorming sessions in rooms full of whiteboards littered with sticky notes. It's a collaborative process that involves ideating and prototyping, and then eventually testing and proving a solution. And yes, he said, while companies like Apple, Google or Procter & Gamble often come to mind first when thinking of those using the approach, there is great opportunity for design thinking in healthcare as the industry becomes more consumer-driven.
Any health system or healthcare organization with a problem to solve can certainly put design thinking to work. “You just have to connect the dots across perspectives," he said. “It's not always easy, but it's worth it in the end to make a product, program or service that works better for the people you’re serving."