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Humanizing Healthcare through Service Design

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By Jonathan Dexter

Engineering Practice Director

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During our most recent Nerd Therapy panel discussion, I was honored to (virtually) host four experts across the field of healthcare for a discussion on building connections with patients through a well-thought-out service design strategy. 

Panelists Adam Dunford (3M), Ashley Pfeiffelmann (Nerdery), Rebecca Pineault (Takeda) and Sara Saldoff (OhioHealth) shared their expertise around the short- and long-term challenges and opportunities within service design, including answering questions from attendees around gaining alignment and finding the “moments that matter” within a service experience. We spoke about key opportunities for improvement, including collaboration, data sharing, and designing with empathy. 

Read on for highlights from our conversation, or view the full recording here.

For those who might be new to the topic, what is service design and how does it differ from experience design? 

Ashley Pfeiffelmann: Service design is a methodology just like experience design. Within service design, you typically want to focus on the Three Ps: Process, People and Props. Think about “Process” as something like how a user might schedule an appointment. “People” are any users you might interact with: a scheduling nurse, provider, customer support, or a caretaker. We think of “Props” as tools used along the way like a digital application, signage, etc. 

How does service design fit into the bigger picture of human-centered design?

Adam Dunford: The most effective UX designers are human-centered — it’s not a complete shift. You’re moving beyond the screen and beyond the digital experience from the first touch point all the way through an experience and what happens afterwards including reflection and response. Service design brings us closer to being connected to humans vs. just simply users of our applications or interfaces.

As we think about service design, what’s one lesson that needs to be carried forward to make a holistic experience?

Rebecca Pineault: The service map looks at front stage (experience) and backstage (process and systems) that enable the front stage experience to happen. The ideation and experience are great, but what are the capabilities that are needed? When it comes to executing, we need to think about hiring, training, data, connections and more that we need in order to create the meaningful experience we’ve envisioned.

What are some of the biggest challenges around creating a service design mindset internally? 

Rebecca Pineault: When you build out the service map and show all the things that live below the experience in order to enable it, there are a lot of empty boxes on the map if you don’t bring stakeholders along. By showing the service map, other groups will be able to see and understand the questions that need to be answered.

Adam Dunford: A lot of times it’s just about shifting our language around the values and metrics that are important to other teams and how they translate into the user experience.

Sara Saldoff: I agree about shifting how people talk about things. You can come at something by being very solutions-oriented and saying, “Here’s what I want.” But when we shift the conversation to “What problem are we all trying to solve?” it’s a much different — and deeper — conversation built around empathy.

Ashley Pfeiffelmann: Very different answers will come from talking to groups separately, but gaining alignment will help you solve problems as one group. 

How does service design impact the broader picture of healthcare?

Sara Saldoff: Like most organizations, we’ve mapped our entire customer journey. Not just the patient’s journey: it looks at providers, clinicians, operations, etc. Healthcare is complex with people entering and exiting the experience at every point along the way. Some moments are very important in the customer journey — the ones with the most impact can service multiple masters. You’re not just solving for the patient, you’re solving for the clinicians on the other side. Patients just want it to be easy — healthcare has become so complex. Even baseline or bad experiences in CPG or retail would be viewed as huge wins in healthcare. There’s so much opportunity to flip the script and impact the entire experience along the way.

What’s the best way to navigate seeking consensus and alignment on moments that matter?

Sara Saldoff: One of our biggest moments of opportunity is around transparency and communication. We can improve that point of friction, and that has a lot of importance.

Ashley Pfeiffelmann: I recommend understanding the user by shadowing the person and understanding their current process. For example, a company was trying to understand why patients weren’t showing up to appointments. They had a hypothesis, but by talking to the consumer they realized getting to appointments was the hardest part for them — either they were disabled or without transportation or met some other roadblock. We must have empathy for users and meet them where they are.

Rebecca Pineault: Across teams, look at the patients’ challenges and then shape the care to those individual needs. Rather than creating frustration, approach care in the way that fits into life.

Sara Saldoff: I agree. Have a conversation to understand what’s happening behind the scenes: transportation insecurity, the cost of prescriptions, etc. The core of the service design is empathy and getting people to talk to one another, repeating the theme of communication and transparency. Doctors used to be in the community in a different way than they are today so we need to provide new tools to make it happen.

What lessons can we learn about successfully implementing service design?

Sara Saldoff: The biggest challenge for healthcare is not having data on customers. We need to get our data house in order to better understand who the customer is (working within legal guidelines) to get a broader picture of the customer across the board.

Rebecca Pineault: This year, we’ve seen the science community coming together to solve the really big problem of COVID-19. Tracing is the perfect example of everyone coming together for a common purpose. The future of healthcare is helping everybody through the sharing of data and collaboration. Right now, the journey of data for a patient is very disconnected: EHRs, telehealth, etc. and understanding PHI and PII is a huge challenge. You see companies rebuilding platforms and hiring data specialists so there’s more transparency in communication. How do we streamline healthcare to make it come together across the full patient journey?

Adam Dunford: The best service design problems are ambiguous, not complicated. Problems that don’t have only one solution is where service design really thrives. Service designers need to move forward with confidence in ambiguity.

Want to continue the service design conversation? Connect with our panelists on LinkedIn or contact us for a service design seminar tailored for your organization. If you enjoyed reading or watching this dialog, stay tuned for announcements around future Nerd Therapy panels.