Design thinking, a methodology used to solve complex problems, has mainly been associated with industries like industrial manufacturing or retail, or companies like Google and Apple. But more and more, innovative leaders recognize the power of design thinking in health care to solve all sorts of problems, from getting people to quit smoking to educating consumers about choosing a health plan.
Nearly every experience and every interaction we have—in health care or otherwise—has been strategically designed. For example, the counters where you drop off your prescription and pick up your medication at the pharmacy have been tactically designed. The same goes for your doctor’s office. If the experience is good, then the design benefits both the business and you, the consumer.
Design thinking in action
At Independence Blue Cross (Independence), we strive to make our members’ experiences with us as uncomplicated as possible, from the simple task of finding a doctor online to the more difficult act of choosing a health plan. This means putting a member’s interest front and center in all our decisions. And that’s precisely what design thinking does.
The basic tenets of design thinking focus on understanding what’s most important to people, and then designing processes, products or interactions that optimize those beliefs. When applied effectively, design thinking can change the way we work.
At Independence, we’ve created a design thinking toolkit to help solve everyday problems. The kit includes tools that mirror the four principles of design thinking; investigate, design, experiment and act. A good example of this is a design thinking session we held to find new ways to help our employees get and stay healthy. It was an ambitious challenge and one where design thinking proved invaluable. Here’s how it went, step by step:
INVESTIGATE. During this phase we immersed ourselves in understanding our challenge. We analyzed what had been tried before, what worked and what didn’t. We identified barriers and constraints. We listed everything we thought prevented our employees from engaging in healthy behaviors, from having too little time to exercise to not wanting to take time off work to see a doctor or get an important health screening. Design thinkers must use empathy in their work and put themselves in their customers’ shoes. For us, that task was easy because the team doing the design thinking work were also employees.
DESIGN. Once we examined our problem from all angles, we started looking for answers. This sounds obvious, but it’s more complex than the traditional methods of brainstorming. Design thinkers apply meaningful insights from their investigation to find the best solutions. That starts with divergent thinking—lots of ideas that could work, and eventually progresses to convergent thinking—ideas that will work.
EXPERIMENT. The third step involved testing our best ideas. We concluded that while our employees are sincere about wanting to be healthier, they don’t often share their goals or challenges with others. We wanted to find a way to get employees to talk more about their health at work. One idea was to create a small whiteboard where people list a few health goals and post it by their desk. However, when we tried a quick version—a piece of paper tacked up at multiple employees’ desks—we found people needed something more. They needed specific prompts to get the conversation started.
ACT. That discovery led us to the solution we implemented during the next phase—a whiteboard with three distinct categories; nutrition, exercise and relaxation. These whiteboards are now seen by staff throughout our offices, from customer service reps manning our phones to our senior team. Our employees tell us that the simple act of writing a health goal and making it visible for all to see is a strong motivator to getting healthier.
Taking the next step
Design tools, while valuable, only get us part of the way to our goals. Collaboration is key to taking us to the finish line. Sometimes all you need to solve a problem is a different way of looking at it. Our design thinking sessions aim to include people from many areas of our business, even people who have no background in the problem they’re tackling. These diverse groups often solve challenges that have plagued others for months or longer.
Design thinking can work for any business. We use it all the time and it has helped us create a number of new initiatives— including the Independence Express, a mobile unit we launched in 2013 to help educate and enroll consumers in new Affordable Care Act health plans.
Each year, we host dozens of design thinking sessions for our employees as well as our customers, business partners, students and others. So the next time you’re facing a formidable business challenge, give design thinking a try. You may be surprised what you learn.
For more information contact Michelle Histand, director of innovation at Independence Blue Cross, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published (and copyrighted) in Philly Biz, Volume 2, Issue 1 (January, 2017).
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