Good design is good health.

How can good design strategy improve patient lives?

September 10, 2017
Austin Baum

The greatest opportunity to improve healthcare in the United States today is design strategy.

Each year there are over 130 million emergency room visits, 125M outpatient visits, and 24M hospitalizations. 83% of Americans interact with a health care professional every year resulting in over 922M office visits (National Center for Health Statistics). We spend 3.2 trillion dollars a year on healthcare, on average $10,000 per person. It is 18% of our GDP. Healthcare is a huge part of our lives in the United States, with costs growing 225% in the last 15 years (Health, United States, 2016).

Could we be healthier?

Patients want more healthcare information. Two thirds of Americans seek out health care information online. Healthcare is the third most popular subject; more popular than business, entertainment, or sports.

We crave information. We act on information. Studies by John Choi and his colleagues show information with nudges to act result in increased follow through. They showed in particular that these nudges improve healthy behaviors. Why would we not leverage these simple methodologies in every possible healthcare interaction?

Patient experience
Interest in patient experience is increasing. This year will be the third annual healthcare conference focused on patient experience — NGPX. New patient experience positions and departments are being created all over the country. Why? So what? Does experience drive outcomes? What is a good experience and how is it measured? Do positive experiences provide financial value to organizations?

Patient satisfaction
In a provocative project at Geisinger Health System, they implemented an unconditional refund policy for any patient not satisfied with their service. Reminiscent of a corporate retailer program it positioned them to view patients as customers. Immediately every interaction becomes an opportunity. As a result, they learned two top drivers for dis-satisfaction were communication and the environment. They redesigned key communication tools and made simple environmental changes, increasing patient satisfaction. Design directly influenced patients.

If design can increase patient satisfaction, how do we know satisfaction improves outcomes?

Patient outcomes
The New England Journal of Medicine asked the same question. They found “…increased patient engage­ment leads to lower resource use but greater patient satisfaction.” They considered many common objections, conflicting studies, and standardized measures in their article. Their conclusion “debate should center not on whether patients can provide meaningful quality measures but on how to improve patient expe­riences …”. Patient satisfaction is positively correlated with quality and outcomes.

Design affects patient experiences, better experiences increase satisfaction, satisfaction correlates with outcomes. Awesome. But, what is the cost?

The bottomline
There are many ways satisfaction affects the bottomline of healthcare organizations. Recent Medicare programs reward providers with higher satisfaction scores and punish low scores. These programs dole out rewards in the form of money. Higher satisfaction equals more revenue. These programs are only increasing in their adoption and severity.

While Medicare has direct affect, patient experiences have financial beneficials in other ways. For example, patient engagement also leads to lower resource use. When patients visit hospitals less, receive fewer lab tests, and take less medication; costs go down. It turns out staying healthy costs less.

Now that we know we can use design strategies to influence health outcomes and reduce cost, how do we do it? Opportunities are everywhere in a hospital or clinic. A patient experience begins before they arrive and continues after they leave. The signage, the greetings, the hallways, the food delivered to the room, the technician taking vital signs, the information received at discharge, the email reminders the day before, the invoices a month later; these and many more all contribute to the experience of a patient.

All interactions — human, digital, and physical — are opportunities for better outcomes.

Patient experiences are customer experiences. Retailers and entertainers have studied and perfected experiences for many years. There is a lot learn from them. As we shift from a perspective of fixing bodies to supporting people, the opportunities for design to play a role are more valuable. We can ensure they have the information and nudges they need to be successful. With empathy, good design principles, and proven commerce strategies we can increase satisfaction.

Americans can be healthier with the knowledge and resources already at our disposal. The risks are low and the possible return on investment is huge. Creating a focused strategy and valuing good design will make patients healthier. The key, take the first step.

Together we can design a healthier future.

If you’re interested in strategies to improve your patient outcomes, we’d love to hear from you. From communications strategies and visual identity systems, to mobile applications and data systems — our passion is a healthier society.

Let’s talk


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