How Design Thinking Is Driving Innovation in Healthcare

Today, everyone’s in a rush and it often feels like no one is truly listening. Being that listening ear to someone is key and can make all the difference. This is especially true when it comes to designing a new product or system.

Let’s continue to analyze how design thinking is helping drive innovation within our healthcare system. Throughout this blog, we will review four core components of design thinking as they relate to the healthcare industry.

Four Core Elements of Design Thinking


During this phase, use words and questions like, “Tell us about your experience? What are your pains and gains? With a magic wand, how would you change the situation?”

Questions like these will help you get to the root of the problem so that you can make a determination as to whether you can help come up with a solution to the outlined problem.

As you ask questions, make sure you’re simply listening and not rushing the user as this process is essential in developing a product that aligns with their goals. Even if this process takes a lot of time, it’s important to remember it is essential and therefore must be treated as such.

Insight Generation

Once you finalize the discovery process, you will then find yourself in the insight generation stage. This stage is geared towards finding the “why” behind the “what”. You will know you’ve completed this stage as the reaction and response you gain from your consumer or patient will be overly positive and they’ll respond in a completely different way.

Here’s an example of this application:

Let’s pretend you’re a dermatologist, and to your patient you state, “based on your history and skin conditions, these are some options that may work best for you.” While this fills the medical definition of care, diagnosis, and treatment, it lacks empathy for the patient.

Therefore, using human-centered design, we would ask the patient why the skin condition is bothersome. Is the rash’s itch distracting them from work, or will the rash ruin their weekend plans out of embarrassment? Similarly, why is the provider focused on diagnosis and treatment? Are they compensated by the number of patients seen? Are they feeling burned out and unable to empathically connect? When you’re constantly thinking about all these things and considering them early, it’s easy to imagine all the places where you can integrate similar processes into your everyday life.

During insight generation, it’s important that you truly make an impact and connect with your patient. Moments like the example above are great and you’ll truly know from the patient’s feedback as to when you have truly made a difference. With every patient being different, this process may require a couple of iterations to finally breakthrough.


This phase is all about getting out of your comfort zone. You can’t get better if you’re afraid of trying something new. Therefore, it’s important that we encourage innovation at every phase to every stakeholder — distributors, researchers, and practitioners included.

Identify your persona and the tried and true method to get them to buy into your product. It’s also important to “be mindful of who you’re sitting across the table from” as you want to ensure you’re keeping them in mind at every stage.

During ideation, it might be worth looking at other industries for guidance as well as they can help you find ways to reimagine concepts and ideas. You may be able to use similar systems and techniques in new, innovative ways that allow you to change a problem within your current organization. Extending the dermatology example, it’s a great idea to ask questions like:

  • How would a makeup artist try to address this issue backstage before a performance?
  • Are there interventions outside of Western medicine that are more willingly received by patients from underrepresented communities?
  • How is my hospital not supporting me, the provider, and my burnout as I address a diverse patient population?

Prototyping & Validation

After establishing your idea, it’s time to turn it into something tangible that can later be tested. This can be done through prototyping and validating systems. Therefore, you must prototype how the system will work and how users will interact with the system.

Every engineered solution at some stage needs to come in front of the patient. This is the time for the patient to review the solution and validate it. During this phase, it’s essential that we determine whether or not the idea is valid or not working.

One of the main challenges many organizations face during this process is cost. If it’s not valid, that means more time must go into redesigning a solution. This also means more time is needed for understanding stakeholders and retesting. Most importantly, this also means more time before a profit is being generated as the solution still hasn’t gone to market.

Final Thoughts

When you truly take the time to understand your patient, life is much sweeter as you will start generating results and building strong connections. You also decrease your work down the line by solving the problems at hand upfront, reducing complaints and problems that may arise later. This comes in addition to the better satisfaction scores and ratings that are generated upfront.

Design thinking is complex but through this process, we will begin to drastically improve how wicked problems are solved and begin to drive true innovation.

As always, I encourage you to stay hopeful, stay dedicated, and remain open to change.

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Educator + Entrepreneur who lives for the “aha!” moment. Co-Founder @theberkeleyinnovationgroup, @healthcarebydesign. Lecturer of Design Thinking @BerkeleyHaas.