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Better by design  

With patients at the heart of it, design can truly drive change in healthcare.

By design we don’t simply mean pretty colours or pictures. Rather, here design embodies people’s thoughts, needs and motivations, the challenges that they face and the solutions that address these issues. Design is in essence the vehicle we use to drive change, whether that’s encouraging better health-related behaviours among patients or helping physicians make decisions.  

Patients at the centre

So how can we design solutions that drive change? In healthcare, we have to put the patients at the centre of everything we do, asking what challenges they face, what's important to them and what will improve their treatment journey.   IDEO have been pioneers of human-centred design and have applied their thinking into healthcare solutions as well. For instance, by observing that nurses tend to hold the patient’s hand before surgery to reassure them, they designed a data entry device that could be used with just one hand to allow them to continue to do so.  

Creating true change
Behavioural science is a great place to start immersing ourselves in the world of patients and physicians. Behavioural economics, for example, taps into the part of our brains that makes decisions without overly thinking about them, a type of decision-making called heuristics. Its principles have formed the basis of a number of design solutions to promote better behaviours in healthcare and beyond. Simple interventions that take advantage of the fact that we are fundamentally lazy (for example, asking people to opt out of rather than opt into pension schemes)1 and influenced by social norms (for example, increasing charity donations by showing people how much their peers have contributed)2  can ‘nudge’ us towards the desired behaviour.   These ‘nudges’ can help to a certain extent, but they can only go so far. For real long-term change we need a more holistic approach that also takes into account our knowledge, our emotions, our goals and our values. By looking at the complete picture, behavioural change theory can help us design solutions that help patients and physicians make the right decisions about their health. As an example, Boscart and colleagues3 used behavioural change theory to understand barriers in good hand hygiene among nurses to prevent the spread of infections, and design interventions that would actually be effective.  

Better solutions through collaboration

But the story cannot end there. After all, we can only learn so much by observing the behaviour of our audience. Ultimately, if we want to develop solutions that will really resonate and drive change, we have to work with the people we are designing for. This deeply collaborative approach recognises that you don’t need to work in the creative industry to come up with creative solutions. All you need is a deep understanding of your needs and the right environment to express them.   At Frontera this forms a key part of our process of Accelerated Change. To design solutions that will really drive change, we run Co-Create workshops with patients, healthcare professionals and our clients. We present the behavioural insights that we gained through our decode phase, and then together we come up with creative solutions that seek to shift current attitudes and barriers, ultimately leading to a future where the patient has a more positive treatment experience.  

Ask us about Co-Create at

1. Voyer, B.G. (2012) Br. J. Health. Manag. 21, 130–135.
2. Behavioural Insights Team (2013) Applying behavioural insights to charitable giving. 3. Boscart, V. et al. (2012) Implement. Sci. 7, 77. 

21st November 2016



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