Power to the People: Unleashing User Insights

Patient centered design has been around for a long time. From Planetree, to LEED for Healthcare  and Evidence Based Design, the importance of the environment to outcomes has been advocated, documented and linked to design and operational decisions. The Beryl Institute is devoted solely to the cause of improving the patient experience. It’s great to have all of these resources. Even better as an architect to have healthcare clients embracing the needs to address the issue. But something gets lost in translation as we go from intent to implementation. Healthcare environments tremendously impact their users, who often have little opportunity to control them. We need to know we are getting it right, not just designing and building attractive surroundings based on precedents.

That’s why I was excited to read about a project recently launched by Penn Medicine in conjunction with the Wharton School of Business. Called “Your Big Ideas Challenge,” the effort reached out to staff throughout Penn Medicine’s system to present their innovative ideas for improving patient care. The top ten will be selected and presented at a town hall meeting. There were many compelling ideas, but what I was most interested in was the process. By empowering staff to think about how they can better serve patients, they were free to do more than air grievances or whine about needing more space. Instead, they could influence the change. Just think about how powerful this process could be when it’s time for the next design project:

Unlock information
There is only so much time at traditional design meetings and only so many staff usually allowed to attend. When you couple that with the fact that most of these people are not adept at reading plans or processing the information we present, counting on meeting feedback is actually a very bankrupt model for design. Instead, after discussing goals for the project with stakeholders, we should frame those goals in the form of questions back to a much more comprehensive cross-section of staff and empower a little innovative thinking that can lead back to either discrete design decisions or the development of design elements that will support an operational change. For example, if you develop a project goal that you want to create a less stressful environment for families, you might ask staff about how they would address commonly encountered family issues or complaints.

Cut a wide swath
Many times, we develop “departmental myopia” on our projects. We forget about just how much impact related departments or core process (lab, housekeeping, maintenance, food service, social services) or groups like infection control and facilities have on a space. Make sure to get the insights of these staff as well. The interchange of things that we don’t even realize happen in a space is often the area most ripe for a design intervention. These extra-departmental folks can provide the lowdown.

Re-integrate Information
So if you follow these suggestions, you now have a bunch of data. Hopefully, you also have a lot of ideas germinating as well. The last and very crucial step in getting the most innovation (and generating the most value) possible, is to re-integrate it back to the project. Invite key players from the extra-departmental group and a more robust sampling of staff from your departmental group to the next design meeting. Provide a recap of the results and how you are planning to use them in design. This allows the innovations to give way to some collaborative discussions, which will give the design team the most useful feedback possible going forward.