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How a Professional Designer Would Redesign The Health Care System

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on September 10, 2009

As anyone who followed President Obama’s speech on Wednesday knows, health care reform is as much about emotions as the delivery of care. Those emotions have been politicized and manipulated, but what if they were examined, understood and embraced by those trying to build a better health care system in the US?

Ravi Sawhey,founder and CEO of the design/innovation consultancy RKS, has put forth the process by which designers might approach the problem of changing the US health care system.

Here’s my favorite quote:
” We’d start by identifying the groups themselves and key triggers for all based upon emotional persona type: The Doubters, The Caregivers, The Fearful Fighters, The Blindly Optimistics, The Realists, and so forth. From there, emotionally relevant stories and experiences would be crafted to communicate and connect with the each group. Design, in the form of communication design or storytelling, will target the transformation of a bad situation into a range of positive experiences for all.”

The World Economic Forum has a new Global Agenda Council on Designing Large-Scale Social Systems. RKS shows how to start doing it.

Reader Comments


September 10, 2009 10:34 PM

Working for a design company, Ravi, is right on this one. You should submit your proposition to the "powers that be", Good luck....
Change the world for the better and create a Great Day!


September 11, 2009 1:08 AM

I must be dumb. I don't get this. Identify personas and create emotionally relevant stories to communicate with each group? And this is design thinking?

Has RKS heard of something called segmentation in marketing?

Just because someone says it is "design" doesn't make it so.

Sergei Dovgodko

September 12, 2009 5:42 AM

Johny is right, this kind of design cannot be done thru emotional stories.

One needs to start with the ethical principle of the system. Such as "equal access to care regardless of income", like in the Netherlands. Or "healthy people pay for sick" principle of Catholic France.

One also need to decide whether health care is a right or not in the US. Also, is it a public utility or for-profit industry? Etc.

The above is a moral and ethical discussions.

Once the principles are set, the the design can begin. The financial and industry realities should be brought in through a dialogue of all stakeholders.

The stories can be told later.


September 12, 2009 6:26 PM

I read Ravi's article and believe he is on the right track related to "speaking" to users of the system in their terms. I believe a first step is helping those people "see" the difference between the options Congress is considering. If people understood what each alternate plan really included they could be valuable policy influencers. When people consider major purchases they often look to Consumer Reports to see a range of choices organized, qualified, and ranked according to a range of important criteria. Why don't we see these alternate plans laid-out similarly? Empty circles would indicate how that plan under performs on a certain parameter, full ones would indicate it did that job well. Ravi's segments may become more life-stage oriented, but the plan could easily be evaluated from each segment's perspective. It's time for Congress to start describing their work visually. Ross Perot understood the power of visual information...unfortunately, was Ross Perot.

Christopher Fahey

September 13, 2009 9:11 PM

By the way, the link to Ravi's article is broken.

But my answer to your title is far simpler than taking an emotional approach. I'd say the health care industries could gain massively by simply allowing designers a chance to design the lowest-level touchpoints of the health care user experience... things like the Target prescription bottles, but do it for other points, too, like signing in at the doctor's office, reading your insurance rights, shopping for policies, searching for a doctor. These are solutions that don't require rethinking the whole system -- they only deal with the atomic touchpoints of the overall system, but those touchpoints today are so unspeakably, abysmally awful that the bang for the buck would be astronomical.

It is painfully clear that the entire industry is, currently, almost completely lacking in personnel or budget for user experience design. The health insurance user experience like the DMV in the 1970s. Their web sites don't even work, much less help people. The user interfaces I've seen on today's electronic health records function like something even a second-year interaction design undergrad could radically improve in a matter of hours -- it's no wonder no doctors want to use them.

In short, the entire industry has, for too long, lacked even the tiniest bit of interest in user experience design. Those companies who invest in it will crush their competitors. It will be like taking candy from a baby.

Thinking of the problem as one with the large-scale system is, I suspect, part of the reason why the problem hasn't been fixed.

ravi Sawhney

September 14, 2009 10:39 PM

Johnny and Sergei,

I respect and agree with your comments. As well, I believe I addressed your comments fairly well in my blog. This is an enormous subject. I tried to condense my approach into a single blog to seed the conversation appropriately. BTW, segmentation is where we start, combined with other assets of primary and secondary research. These are then transformed into personas so that insight can be generated from the “first person perspective”. That’s one facet of another large topic. I will surely cover it on another day, as well as in my upcoming book with Wharton publishing.

Bruce, Jahlove63 and Scott,
Thank you for your comments.
If not today, hopefully some day, design will be able to provide its benefits to social agendas and not strictly for commerce.


Wendy Pawluk

November 26, 2010 5:25 AM

Just thinking about some sentencesyou put into this article. Recently, I’ve read some interesting books about it.

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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