Why Is Design Thinking Healthcare Consumerism’s Most Important Factor?

Let’s begin this piece with a survey question about how your organization views the importance of customer experience in consumerism. If you think your organization views customer experience as the most important component of having a successful healthcare consumerism program, type the letter ‘A’—case does not matter. Otherwise, type the letter ‘B’. Your answers will be revealed at the end of this post.

A number of you asked me to explain the role of design-thinking in enabling healthcare consumerism. To best understand the role of design-thinking regarding healthcare consumerism I find it helpful to consider the question, “What is the opposite of design-thinking?”

Maybe it is designing without thinking.

So, is that a big deal, or is it nothing worse than spilt milk?

Please consider these two examples for a moment. Imagine yourself in a meeting, and on the table in front of you are blank sheets of paper and a box of Crayola crayons. The facilitator of the meeting starts with the following icebreaker as an exercise—design a vase. Twenty minutes later you stand and tell the crowd why your vase adds value. The second part of the exercise is to design a better way for people to experience flowers. I’m guessing that nobody in the room is going to draw another vase.

Exercise number two is to design a way to serve coffee. Half of the people in the room draw something that resembles a coffee pot. Part two of the exercise is to design a better way for people to experience coffee. Everyone in the room draws something that represents Starbucks.

There is a huge difference between designing for function and designing to create an experience.

So, back to healthcare. Providers. Payers. Retail pharmacies.

A new meeting. This meeting takes place in your organization. Two months ago the executive team told you to design a solution to handle the fact that millions of the organization’s patients and customers call the firm each year. You display your first slide, a schematic of a big room with a bunch of phones in it. “It’s a call center,” you tell the executives. “People call us. What if we build a big room, buy a bunch of phones, and hire a bunch of people and get them to answer those calls? We won’t have to pay them very much because they don’t have do be highly skilled to talk on the phone.”

The executives nod to one another, and approve building a big room and buying a bunch of phones.

But what if the executives had asked a different question? What if instead of asking, how should we handle phone calls, the executives had asked you to design a way to provide a remarkable experience for someone each time they need to interact with us? Would that change the type of solution you proposed? Would anyone present a schematic of a call center as a way to provide patients and customers with a remarkable experience?

Function versus experience. Designing without thinking versus design-thinking.

The application of design thinking to healthcare consumerism is the ante to begin, and the lynchpin to succeeding. It is the most important determinant as to whether your firm offers healthcare and whether it can be recast to offer healthcare.

Think about your own health. Can you, with a high level of certainty know that you are 100% healthy today? Can you demonstrate with some degree of certainty that you are healthier this month than you were last month? You may be able to do so with regard to certain factors—your systolic blood pressure dropped three points; your resting heart rate is stable at sixty beats per minute.

And do you know what is special about this knowledge? You are the only person on the entire planet who knows that information. It is your secret. And secrets are no fun unless you can share them with someone.

Among the people who do not know your secret are your primary care physician, your cardiologist, your pharmacist, and your health insurance company. You have this data, but you have no way to share with with them, and they have not demonstrated any interest in knowing this information.

Now suppose the numbers about your blood pressure and resting heart rate were different. Suppose your systolic blood pressure had been increasing steadily during the past month, and today it was 150. And suppose your resting heart rate had risen from 60 BPM to 89 BPM.

This type of information is the type you want to share with someone, with someone who can tell you what you should be doing. And you will want to continue to share it with those same someones to learn whether what they told you to do is working, and you want to be able to do that on a habitual basis, and using a method that allows an interactive and cognitive exchange of information.

It would be nice to have CVS or your provider receive and assess your daily blood pressure data to determine if the medication is working instead of waiting for your next visit to the doctor. Taking the medication as prescribed every day for 60 days and having the doctor discover on day 60 that your systolic pressure had risen to 170 is not helpful.

So, here is my proposed first step to determining whether your organization wants to simply offer healthcare, or whether you also want to offer healthcare. A thirty-day challenge. Pull together a team of executives, and hopefully a consultant or two—because we have bills to pay, with the goal of answering the question, What would we design if we wanted to provide a remarkable experience for someone each time they need to interact with us? And could we use that design to enable people to share their health data with us daily?

So back to our survey. Fifteen percent of you answered with the letter ‘A’. I gave the same survey to all of the chimpanzees at the Philadelphia Zoo along with a Bluetooth clicker—chimps are crazy about technology—that had one button for ‘A’ and one button for ‘B’. Half of the chimps clicked ‘A’, and the other half clicked ‘B’.

Maybe the chimps should be on your thirty-day challenge team; or at least half of them.

Want to see if this idea has any basis in reality?  Try this North Face app and see what a cognitive customer experience looks like. (https://www.thenorthface.com/xps)

If you own a GM vehicle with OnStar you have already used a scaled-down version of cognitive self-service.  Your car uploads data about itself, GM analyzes it, and lets you know what is wrong with it and that you need to take it to a mechanic.

Healthcare could do the same thing if it only collected and analyzed data from your apps and wearables–you need to be tested for diabetes.

It could.  It just doesn’t.  And that is a shame.  Because to the first firm to do that it could be game, set, and match.

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