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Everything in Healthcare Is Design

By Kim Bellard, January 27, 2018

I've been thinking a lot about health and communities lately. But I keep coming back to Dr. Bon Ku is doing at JeffDESIGN.

I am somewhat late to this game.  Dr. Ku co-founded JeffDESIGN three years ago, as a "college within a college".  Since then it has received local, regional, and national attention.  Dr. Ku has done a TEDx talk on their efforts.  So I'm not exactly breaking new ground here.

More importantly, though, they are.

Basically, the goal of JeffDESIGN is to teach medical students "to apply design thinking to solve healthcare challenges." As obvious as that might seem, they believe it is the first such program in a medical school.

Their Health Design Lab is located in a former bank vault.  It looks more like a start-up than a medical school classroom, full of configurable tables, computers, whiteboards, even 3D printers. 

Students get to take on actual problems in the healthcare system, develop solutions, prototype them, and perhaps see them put into use.  Dr. Pugliese told NextCity:  "These kids are all going to graduate as physicians, and they’re going to have a whole new language that nobody who’s ever graduated from a med school has had before."

That's pretty cool.

Dr. Ku is by training an ER physician, and his experiences there shaped his views of the broader forces impacting health.  And, remember, this program -- and, presumably, this point-of-view -- is unique among medical schools.  It shouldn't be.

We simply don't think enough about design in healthcare.  Not the right designs, for the right reasons.  In a a podcast for Knowledge@Wharton, Dr. Ku complained that:

We settle for design mediocrity, like I said. When we design hospitals, we should want to design the best and most beautiful building which happens to be a hospital, but instead, we design mediocre buildings.

He went so far as to say: "most of us don't realize that everything in health care is design."

Think about that:  Everything. In. Health.  Care. Is. Design.

The problem that JeffDESIGN has, through no fault of its own, is that even if all physicians were similarly trained, physicians can't change everything that needs to be redesigned (or, as some would say, actually designed) -- not in healthcare and certainly not in our society. The problems go much deeper.

Too many designers are designing only within their bubble, and no matter how well designed that bubble is, all-too-often they don't think enough about how their bubble overlaps with the others.  Our health is impacted by everything we touch and interact with, and many of those interactions are not designed with our health in mind.  

Design thinking in healthcare isn't about making the process of getting medical care easier, although it should do that too.  Design thinking in healthcare should be about making the process of being healthy easier.  That's a much taller order of magnitude, and that's what Steve Downs meant by wanting to build health into the "operating system" of our daily lives.  

Dr. Ku would agree: you don't have to be trained as a designer to use design thinking.  Dr. Ku boils it down: "I think at the core of human-centered design or design thinking is deep empathy for the end user.”

Certainly anyone working in or around healthcare should have that.

Patients aren't the end users.  People are.  Care is not the end result.  Health is.  Let's design for them and for that.  If you don't have that kind of empathy, maybe you should be doing something else.

This post is an abridged version of the posting in Kim Bellard’s blogsite. Click here to read the full posting

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