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Why Your Health System Needs Service Design

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By Cait Elgin,
Casey Kaplan

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Before COVID-19, many healthcare systems started making strides toward improving their digital and face-to-face patient experience. Many of these efforts struggled to find traction — stymied by siloed data, poorly integrated technology infrastructures, and stakeholders with misaligned goals and priorities. The pandemic — and the rapid adoption of virtual care and telehealth — brought these underlying challenges into sharp relief and dramatically increased the urgency of addressing the industry’s patient experience shortcomings.  

One of the most effective tools for improving patient experience is applied service design. Service design enables you to holistically see an experience through the patient or provider lens — while also analyzing how people, data and technology enter into and out of the experience. Looking across the entire experience helps you understand the current process, what information, tools and services are being used and when, and identify gaps and pain points that prevent patients and providers from establishing a good relationship and meeting their respective goals. Those findings can be leveraged to develop new business processes and revenue streams, improving overall experience, health outcomes and delivering business results.

When we look at a patient journey, it is important to think about what that patient is doing, thinking and feeling before, during, and after the experience to build empathy and ensure we focus on the entire experience rather than just one aspect. To do this, a good exercise is to consider the three P’s and the five E’s of service design, developed by Neilsen Norman.

Infographic showing the three "P's" and five "E's" of service design.

Service Design is a methodology that helps organizations map the value of business functions, capabilities, processes and technologies to meet the patient’s needs.

Three P’s of Service Design:

  • Process: What is the process the primary user is going through?
  • Props: What tools are they leveraging along the way — digital or physical?
  • People: What people are they interacting with along their journey?

Five E’s of Service Design:

  1. Entice: The moment the user discovers a brand, product or service and sees something relevant to their needs.
  2. Engage: The moment a user takes an action and decides to engage with the brand, product or service. This is critical in healthcare because it’s often the entry point to care.
  3. Experience: The core of the user journey. The experience can be any number of things from finding parking, going through an in-person clinic visit or a virtual care experience.
  4. Exit: This is the conclusion of the user journey: what the user is doing as they leave an experience (physically or virtually), what they are prompted to do, or who they interact with.
  5. Extend: Ways to re-engage with the user and continue care.

Understanding where to focus implementation efforts is critical when considering how business operations and technology align to a user journey, either directly or indirectly. This process is an exercise in understanding the business model and experience in its current and desired future state. The key benefit for clients is the opportunity to zoom out and see the big picture while zooming into specific experience moments to capitalize on opportunities or problems.

Service design is particularly well suited to hospitals and healthcare delivery systems because it requires everyone involved to focus on what is best for the patient vs. what is best for their specific business unit or service line. It is an ideal way to put patient needs first, align competing stakeholder objectives and establish a shared point of view, thus allowing everyone to understand their unique role in delighting the patient and delivering a positive health outcome. For example, when service design is leveraged in a bottom-up strategy, front-line physicians and team members will better understand their role and context. In a top-down setting, service design gives business leaders better visibility into how each role, from facilities to physicians, plays a part in creating, capturing, and delivering value for the patient and business.

If you’re eager to learn more about service design methodology, connect with us for a service design workshop where we’ll work side-by-side with key organization stakeholders to deeply understand and map your customer experience, identify potential limitation gaps in your people, business processes and technology, and develop a plan to move forward.