Experience Design for Healthcare: Empathy & Beyond

The following is a guest article by Richard Corder, Managing Director at TiER1 Healthcare

During a recent discussion, my colleague Rasu Shrestha, MD, MBA, suggested that empathy might be the silver bullet to improve the healthcare experience—even over technology—and I agree. We do need more empathy in healthcare. The reminder and practice of being non-judgmental and working to understand someone else’s feelings has a critical place in all aspects of what we do as leaders. Whether we are grappling with our approach to a sensitive budget decision or facing difficult conversations with a patient’s family in the Emergency Department, the need for more empathy has likely never been more important.

However, the work to improve the healthcare experience for patients, families, and caregivers requires much more than a single silver bullet. I believe that if we are to improve the healthcare experience, we desperately need intentional culture and experience design. If empathy is the bullet, then thoughtful experience design is the aim.

This approach should reach beyond the work of traditional experience design; often understood as what people think and feel moment-by-moment when interacting with a product—the iPhone being the easiest example. Intentionally redesigning the healthcare experience must be about reimagining the interaction between human beings and the myriad ways that we “touch” healthcare.

The best designers and architects create spaces that do more than just function; they give us beauty, make us feel things, and impact our behavior. So too can healthcare leaders intentionally design the experiences we create for our caregivers, patients, and families. We can look beyond the basic functional aspects to impact behavior, emotion, and outcomes.

How might we begin?
Start by focusing on the experience of your employees.

  • Is the experience and the memory of being hired and onboarded a positive one?
  • Do new employees have what they need to be successful?
  • Does the first day at work feel exciting and rich with potential or scary and uncertain?
  • How are your employees doing…really?

Find ways to “practice” design thinking.
Choose one aspect of how individuals experience your hospital and involve them in the design―perhaps it’s your call center, your Emergency Department waiting room, or your surgical appointment scheduling system.

  • Are they memorable and easy to use, or is there room for improvement?
  • Seek out the insights and advice of those you are serving and those with expertise in the design of memorable experiences.

Seek out real-time feedback and data.

  • Ask yourself about the accuracy of your feedback data. Think about the real-time feedback associated with a recent experience you might have had (coffee shop, pizza restaurant). What happened when you were dissatisfied with the quality of the service or product? How immediate was the resolution? How often will you go back if the same problem continues? Who do you tell about the service recovery or lack thereof?

So while yes, empathy is a powerful element that is absent in many aspects of healthcare, empathy alone will not resolve the brokenness within our current healthcare system. From how we are organized, make decisions, are trained, and paid, to how we develop technologies to improve care, empathy makes impact only when it is driving the design of intentional, better resourced systems and processes for those we serve.

About Richard Corder

Hotel executive turned healthcare experience champion, Richard is a Managing Director of TiER1 Healthcare, a division of TiER1 Performance. In his role, he partners to activate the potential of healthcare organizations through people. This fosters cultures that allow leaders and their teams to craft, lead, and sustain organizational systems that generate improved results for caregivers, patients, their families, and the organization.

Full Disclosure: TiER1 was a sponsor of our EXPO.health event.