Design Thinking as the Cure: IDK Workshop to Reimagine Healthcare

When we try to think of ways to improve healthcare, design thinking may not be what immediately comes to mind. But perhaps it is the best remedy to nagging pain-points in the healthcare system. Can a more empathetic management approach increase doctor retention rate in public hospitals? How can we make the best use of finite resources for a growing population? All these thorning issues require creative problem solving that frontline workers and stakeholders can truly embrace.

At a special IDK workshop co-organised by Hong Kong Design Centre and the JC School of Public Health and Primary Care of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, medical professionals came together to explore how design thinking can provide creative solutions to pressing issues faced by the hospital network. The workshop was attended by executives and senior doctors from public and private hospitals, top brass in government departments, as well as representatives from Macau.

In this one-day session, participants became acquainted with design thinking frameworks and their possible impact in healthcare. Together, they identified existing problems, ideated for opportunities and prototyped out solutions. For example, doctors may be busy typing out medical records and prescriptions during consultations. It might be difficult for them to explain to patients in detail or even look them in the eye. Such situation inspired a group to come up with a dictation system which can transcribe the doctors' dialogue as they talk to patients, thus allowing more doctor-patient interaction. Another prototype suggestion is an app called PC Direct, a one-stop primary care platform that enables patients to find doctors in the neighbourhood easily.

Dr. Fung Hong, JP, Professor of Practice in Health Services Management & CEO of CUHK Medical Centre – an important visionary behind this workshop – underlined the importance of design thinking to medical professionals. “As doctors, we are strong in logical thinking, which is somewhat sequential and linear. We are trained to be result-oriented. But design thinking and design doing can teach us to empathise and understand the breadth and multiple layers behind each issue. We came to understand that being too logical may not always yield the best solutions.” He believes that introducing design thinking to frontline medical professionals is the beginning of real organisational change.

Dr. Edmund Lee, Executive Director of Hong Kong Design Centre, also agreed with the need to empathise with service users, “Design thinking in healthcare is about understanding the stakeholders and providing people-centred services. This brief yet fruitful workshop is a spark of enlightenment to motivate practitioners to reflect how healthcare services can be transformed.”

We had the honour of having a special guest – Professor Sir Cyril Chantler from the UK – join the workshop. He offered his view on why design thinking matters. “In medical schools, doctors are trained to focus on individuals. Design thinking challenges us as doctors to think comprehensively and consider the context. For me, design thinking is somewhat similar to medical diagnosis. Just like how doctors identify the crux of the problem before giving a prescription or treatment, we also need to analyse the situation as a whole before coming up with a solution in design thinking.”

By gathering the perspectives of healthcare professionals and proactively identifying and finding solutions to the problems they encounter, design thinking could be the best cure for existing problems in our healthcare system. We hope that there will soon be more similar workshops in hospitals to engage frontline workers.