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How Can Nurses Save More Lives with Design Thinking

At first, it might not seem like UX — the high-tech term website designers and software engineers use to describe user experience — would have much to do with nursing. But the idea of design thinking central to UX has applications in many different fields, including healthcare.

At its core, design thinking is a method used to make something more effective, and to make interaction with it either more intuitive or easier to learn. For nurses, that can certainly apply to the equipment they use and the practices they employ in their day-to-day routines in caring for patients. Hospitals and other healthcare facilities should employ design thinking in all aspects of patient care.

But design thinking can and should also extend to patient education, to enable those patients to fully participate in their recovery in both the hospital and at home.

As a 2016 National Institutes of Health report pointed out, “The business community has learned the value of design thinking as a way to innovate in addressing people’s needs — and health systems could benefit enormously from doing the same.”

The Three Specific Elements that Can Help Healthcare Teams

A New York Times article exploring the concept further identifies three specific elements of design thinking that could apply for any given innovation: empathy for the user (in this case, for a member of the healthcare team), the involvement of an interdisciplinary team, and the ability to quickly prototype it — in other words, to have at least a “rough draft” version of a solution that people can use.

One example the New York Times article gives involve a hospital’s trauma team not having clear indication of who had the leadership role in quick-moving, high-stress situations. The solution they created was simple yet effective: The leader for the shift wore an identifying orange vest, visually communicating who would take the lead on directing the trauma team.

In another example, a hospital found a correlation between the proximity of the sink to the patient in a patient room and handwashing, and designed those rooms accordingly to encourage the simple, effective behavior of handwashing that can greatly reduce infection risk.

Why Talking to People is Important

In order to apply design thinking to healthcare, you have to identify who the users of a particular system are, and you have to learn about how it’s currently working. A UX Planet article titled, “How to Apply Design Thinking in Healthcare” emphasized the importance of research, starting with the simple advice: “Start with conversations. Talk to patients [and] families about their problems.”

By learning what’s not working well, people using UX principles can understand where the user experience is breaking down and what needs to be addressed. Conversely, finding out what is working can guide and even model solutions to existing problems within the user experience.

Ultimately, UX asks how designers can improve a system for its users today, with the understanding that the users’ needs might change down the road. In healthcare, patients generally want to feel both physically and emotionally better, and healthcare providers want to feel ready for any situation. Educated healthcare providers — especially nurses, who are at the heart of the patient care experience — can give valuable, needed insights to this process.

Learn more about the A-State online RN to BSN program.


Health: A Design Thinking Framework for Healthcare Management and Innovation

The New York Times: Design Thinking for Doctors and Nurses

UX Planet: How to Apply Design Thinking in Healthcare

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