Anyone working in or for the healthcare sector will have heard the term ‘patient centricity’. It’s been bandied around for a number of years now and was initially little more than a concept but is now slowly gathering momentum and becoming a legitimate movement. While definitions vary, I believe patient centricity in its truest sense means actively involving patients in every step of healthcare design and provision.

In a pharmaceutical industry context this could include involving patients in clinical trial design and reporting; getting their input into product presentation and packing; and designing patient support services according to patients’ needs and with their input. In terms of service provision, for instance in hospitals, this could include getting patients involved in the design of facilities and taking into account the patient experience as they progress through the treatment journey.

In other words it’s human-centred design.

Which brings us to design thinking.

Again, a term that has a multitude of definitions but according to the guru Wikipedia design thinking combines empathy for the context of a problem, creativity in the generation of insights and solutions, and rationality in analyzing and fitting various solutions to the problem context. 

Or according to Tim Brown, CEO and president of the famed design thinking hub IDEO, it is "matching people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and viable as a business strategy.”

So back to healthcare, surely the “matching people’s needs” and “empathy for the context of a problem” bits are synonymous with involving patients when creating things or services for patients? Does this mean that patient centricity is actually – or at least should be – a design thinking approach to healthcare design? And if so, what are the implications?

A design thinking approach can be thought of having five phases:

  • Discovery – this is where the challenge or task is framed and insight and inspiration are gathered. This could be focus groups of patients providing insight and framing the task ahead from their perspective
  • Interpretation – this is where meaning is pulled from the insights to frame opportunities
  • Ideation – ideas are then generated to tackle the challenge or task, which would seem like a ripe area to involve patients
  • Experimentation – different ideas are prototyped and trialled here, and in the healthcare context should absolutely involve patients
  • Evolution – feedback is gathered and learnings tracked leading to new iterations. Things are never static and the patient experience may change over time. A continuous feedback loop should exist to constantly review the effectiveness of healthcare design and service provision to inform future iterations.

And this is increasingly happening; design thinking methodologies are being used to tackle the design of healthcare services as a quick Google search will reveal. (Check out this video.) What doesn’t return Google hits is the combination of ‘design thinking’ and ‘patient centricity’ as search terms.

I wonder if we started to link the two concepts – to think when we want to be patient centric that we must consider a design thinking approach – then we’d be on a fast track to truly achieving patient-centred healthcare delivery?

This represents quite a paradigm shift in mind set from product or service driven design to patient experience driven design and won’t happen overnight; however it is heartening to see a number of companies in the pharmaceutical sector and beyond starting to take genuine steps in this direction.

Stuart Baker is head of the medical knowledge group at H+K London.