Originally published in The Hospital+Healthcare Bulletin

By Katie Bowden* 
Monday, 15 January, 2018

Less than a decade ago patients would automatically consult a medical professional to address their health issues. Now with the proliferation of technology and availability of information, the patient approach to manage their health care has shifted. In Australia, 50% of patients use websites to manage their health, as well as mobile apps (29%), wearable technology (21%) and social media (17%) to name a few.1

Furthermore, the days of patients being passive recipients of a service are long gone and they are now an integral part and resource in the value creation process.

As a result, patient interactions with healthcare professionals have changed and innovation in the design of services is imperative to meet the needs of patients, today and in the future.

What is service design?

Simply put, service design is the activity of planning and implementing change to improve a service’s quality to meet the needs of the users of that service.

It is a holistic, user-centric approach to create services that are useful, usable, desirable, efficient and effective. The approach can be used to improve service delivery across healthcare organisations, whether it be a community health centre, outpatient department, emergency services, inpatient services or even a local GP practice. Any interaction between a patient and a service provider can be improved by service design methodology.

For any service design initiative to be successful, there are five core principles that form the foundation of service design:

1. User-centric

By placing the patient in the centre of the service, service designers are able to discover how the patient experiences the service in its wider context. This requires a deeper understanding of patients than statistical descriptors. Thus, service design uses empathic approaches like interviews, observations and field research to gather insights to understand a patient’s true motivations, social context and habits. It is important to map out and assess the patient’s needs, experiences and behaviours before co-creating a solution to be tested iteratively.

2. Co-creation

This is the process of involving stakeholders, not only in the solution’s design but also in its production and development. The development, creation and testing of these services is called co-creation, and is usually done by multidisciplinary teams. Multidisciplinary teams allow various expertise, knowledge and skills, without which the solution would be very shallow. It creates a partnership between the professional groups as well as patients. Everyone has an opportunity to input their perspectives and experiences.

3. Iterative process

One of the main features of services design is not avoiding making mistakes but simply learning from them. This is achieved by prototyping and testing on end users and stakeholders. As a designer, you can save organisations a large amount of time and money if you test the experience before resources spend lengthy periods of time developing it.

4. Visual communication

Service designers often use visual aids like sketches, pictures or prototypes to communicate. In a collaborative team environment, it can be more expressive to draw than use words. Visual tools can be less complicated and more tangible. Clear communication between stakeholders is essential for the implementation phase.

5. Holistic services

These are services that look at the whole patient journey and consider each touch point of that journey. Service blueprints and user journeys and scenarios all investigate holistic patient experiences and touch points. This involves not only designing the functionality, safety and reliability of the service, but the whole patient journey as it is experienced by the users including both tangible and intangible qualities.

Service design is not just about being more patient-centred or promoting greater patient participation. It concentrates on placing the experience goals of the patients and users at the centre of the design process, along with process and clinical goals.

*Katie Bowden is passionate about informatics and digital health care and for the past 12 years she has worked as a Health Information Manager across a number of Local Health Districts in NSW Health. She is currently the Service Design and Delivery Director for NEXA.


1. Accenture Consulting, 2016, ‘Accenture 2016 Consumer Survey on Patient Engagement – Global Report’, 29 June, 2016, https://www.accenture.com/t20160629T045304Z__w__/us-en/_acnmedia/PDF-15/Accenture-Patients-Want-A-Heavy-Dose-of-Digital-Research-Global-Report.pdf, p24.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/vege

Read more: http://hospitalhealth.com.au/content/design-in-health/article/service-design-for-the-patient-of-the-future-105456264#ixzz54PrKaDDJ

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