As healthcare leaders, we should adopt human-centered design principles to guide how we develop medical products, services, and even tomorrow's healthcare policies—all by essentially putting ourselves in patients’ shoes. These are among the many topics we explore as Health for America (HFA) at MedStar Health fellows, specifically examining how IDEO’s Human-Centered Design Toolkit can help us build and productively activate empathy through simulations, patient interviews, prototyping, and piloting. I recently attended two talks hosted by MedStar Institute for Innovation (MI2) and Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), respectively, which helped reinforce why we need—and how we can create—human-centered healthcare policies shaped by various stakeholders’ points of view.
Empathize with people directly affected
At the 2017 MI2 Innovation Forum, Frank Sesno, author of Ask More and former CNN anchor, White House correspondent, and Washington Bureau Chief, presented on asking the right questions. In Ask More, he provides an example of human-centered design in the context of healthcare reform. For a CNN story, he met with three single moms to discuss welfare reform at the time.
“I was curious: how did these proposed changes look through the eyes of the people who would be directly affected by them? So I asked.”
Asking these questions during these conversations gave Sesno the background to empathize by following four principles: (1) Try new shoes; (2) Leave running room; (3) Listen beyond words; and (4) Establish intimate distance.
On the other hand, when the people directly affected are not fully considered in the process, unfortunate circumstances may occur. For example, many states are currently pursuing healthcare policy changes, some with noble goals such as increasing workforce participation. Yet some of the requirements also run the risks of unintended populations losing coverage or creating significant administrative burdens, both potentially without sparking the desired overall change. Using human-centered design principles can help leaders to understand their diverse constituents in order to design and prototype policy changes that empathize with those affected.
Understand the challenges and efforts of leadership
As the Executive Director of HealthproMed, Ivonne Rivera-Hernandez described some of the continued problems and human-centered solutions that the community health center is putting in place to help address them. For instance, power supply is still inconsistent which makes it difficult to monitor and preserve medications, especially those that need to be temperature controlled. Many patients, such as people with diabetes, need these medications to survive but do not have power in their homes. HealthproMed employees are traveling into the community to bring these patients their medications. Without this effort to understand the circumstances of these patients, this may have been overlooked. Meanwhile, Rivera-Hernandez now has to determine how to keep these medications cool and develop workflows and staffing plans to transport them to patients.
Use human-centered strategies to prepare and design new policies
Many of the leaders expressed their gratitude for having The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) present on the islands prior to the hurricanes making landfall. This preparation made a difference in the recovery process. However, more preparation and plans need to be established prior to the next hurricane season. Getting relief to these islands presents different challenges than in the continental United States. It is important that U.S. organizations like Congress, HHS, and KFF are working with the islands to understand and develop policies that will accomplish preparation for the near future as well as long-term.
Congresswoman Stacey E. Plaskett closed out the morning presentation speaking to the educational, economic, and healthcare challenges of this crisis. Among other issues, many people are leaving the islands, clinicians included, which has taken a toll on the islands’ ability to provide adequate health care when they are already struggling with unstable hospital structures. As she very eloquently recognized, the heartfelt responses of those who care about the islands’ issues are well-respected and heard. But, empathetic concerns must be translated into terms that make fiscal sense for the broad U.S. public as well. If human-centered design is used to create healthcare plans and policies, we are more likely to develop solutions that benefit the full spectrum of stakeholders.