Healthcare needs design thinking

1st February 2022

Healthcare can benefit from design thinking in turning patient pathways more patient friendly. The North Estonia Medical Centre (NEMC) has collaborated with the Estonian Academy of Arts for a long time. The aim of the collaboration is to bring real-life problem points to the table, where the interaction and service/product design students with clinical staff can work towards realistic solutions.

Even though typically design is associated more with appearance and less with usability, today’s medicine uses design thinking methods and tools for analysing patient pathways in order to make it smoother and clearer. The North Estonia Medical Centre (NEMC) has collaborated with the Estonian Academy of Arts for a long time, but only recently, in autumn 2021, we signed a formal collaboration contract. The aim of the collaboration is to bring real-life problem points to the table, where the interaction and service/product design students with clinical staff can work towards realistic solutions. 

Earlier collaborations have had many success stories. In the area of thesis topics and supervision, in close teamwork with the intensive care unit, product design bachelor student Merike Liiva analysed the communication between the hospital staff and the relatives, especially in Covid-times, when visiting was forbidden. Using co-designing, she came up with a solution to introduce online calls and communication platforms to improve the connection with relatives. Her thesis won the first award in the competition of best research publication in the field of medicine and healthcare in 2021. A new thesis in working on mapping the journey of heart transplant patients and proposing possible design interventions within the North Estonia Medical Centre. 

We have very active collaboration with the academia in the frames of different curricula and courses – every semester we have student projects in different areas – interior architecture, interaction, service and product design. Students have worked on user pathways and creating healing environments in our new buildings. They have come up with ideas to increase the number of apheresis blood donors and how to better prepare patients for nuclear medicine scans, for instance PET-scan for cancer patients. Implementing at least some of the ideas, can decrease the number of the cancelled appointments hence more people receive timely help. 

The key to successful outcome is well-committed problem owner and cooperation, working hand-in-hand with clinicians on the solutions. The nurses and doctors, who have participated, have mentioned that already a detailed mapping of the “as is” situation is beneficial and everything more is already a bonus. Even if some of the ideas from design projects are unrealistic and undoable for many reasons, dreaming can be motivating and constructive.  

In conclusion, NEMC medical staff has been welcoming design students for several years. Many are even volunteering their unit and specific bottlenecks. We are very glad that our staff is seeing the value in design thinking, because patient centric approach is one of the core values of NEMC.

Discover more about the North Estonia Medical Centre:

The North Estonia Medical Centre Foundation (NEMC) is one of the top healthcare providers in the country established by the Republic of Estonia. As a tertiary level regional hospital, we have the highest-level competence to provide specialized medical care and ambulance services, to be the learning base of training that precedes and follows the acquiring of health care professionals’ qualifications and does health care related study and research work. Our Case mix index is 1.68.  

We are a patient-centred institution committed to professionalism, innovation and teamwork. We have over 5000 people – doctors, nurses, caregivers and specialists – working for the good of patients. The hospital consists of seven clinics and 32 specialist centers. In a year, the Medical Centre gives specialized medical care to ca 144 000 patients. NEMC offers medical care in all specialist fields other than obstetrics.

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