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Design Thinking in Oncology: Improving the Patient Experience

April 19, 2022

Design in community oncology is the deliberate creation of an experience for oncology patients. This approach uses an empathy-driven model to improve the overall experience. Design thinking is an approach to problem-solving, leveraging human experience to generate ideas, prototypes, and iterative testing.

Design Thinking in Healthcare

Understanding the complexity of the common problems faced by oncology patients is challenging. However, it’s more feasible to manage these difficulties through the practical application of empathy in the design process. This can apply to focus groups, surveys, town hall meetings, clinical trials, and other controlled settings. 

The nature of these challenges often overlap from one area of practice to another—they’re not unique to oncology. Therefore, previous work in this area can be readily referenced. For example, oncology patients will often cite the same problems. Examples include access to transportation, coordination with the clinical staff, and implicit bias. 

Benefits of Design Thinking

Designers can make specific changes to address the stated needs of patients and family members. Empathy plays a prominent role in crafting a design process that accurately reflects the patient’s significant pain points. Iteration is an important feature, requiring repetition to reflect the patient’s needs accurately.

Refining the Design Thinking Process

Questions to the patient are a critical feature of design thinking in healthcare. The type of questions asked to the patients will accurately reflect the quality of the empathy being practiced. With enough experience and regular practice, this can also be expected to improve over time.

Since the design thinking process requires iterative testing and refinement, feedback from the patients is essential. The initial feedback should be gathered as early as possible so that it can be used to compare results against future refinements. Additional information can be collected by talking to staff about specific issues brought up by the patients.

Experimenting, New Information

No single method will get your oncology practitioners to fully understand the experience from the patient’s perspective on the first try, so count on iteration. Repetition of a practice based on empathy in healthcare can help your oncology practice thrive.

Gathering new information can help you refine the interaction with patients. This is most important to tackle during periods when it seems that everything is fine. Medical systems can move incredibly fast from the patient’s perspective, so maintain open lines of communication. Simple questions can quickly reveal what the patient is experiencing.

Asking how your patients feel communicates compassion and affirms their humanity. This approach focuses on viewing the oncology practice from the patient’s perspective. It can be challenging to walk in someone else’s shoes, but the effort is worth it. Practicing empathy in healthcare settings only develops with regular, focused practice.

Innovative Solutions in Oncology

Design thinking has often been done by the people who run the facility. This approach ignores the patient’s experience and needs. Rethinking this approach enhances emotional intelligence and helps earn the community’s trust.

Value-based care can be given through the design process, which complements the medical care offered at the oncology location. This requires that designers trust the views of the people who they’re designing these systems to serve. This approach can be more difficult if financial stakeholders oppose it. However, obstacles exist to be overcome.

The Patient Experience in Healthcare

Existing information about the patient experience in healthcare settings is informative. It’s another resource that can help to improve the design thinking process for oncologist settings. Many clinicians are frustrated about enhancing the patient experience, and these sentiments are expressed in no uncertain terms.

One staff member stated, “We wanted to know what else we could do.”

Here’s an illustrative example of a patient experience. This provides insight into what the typical patient might be facing. Consider the various hurdles of a patient trying to reach a large medical facility with multiple buildings.

The patient lives far away and relies on a network of people who have scheduling conflicts, multiple responsibilities, and limited resources. The distance is considerable, and the patient arrives in a wheelchair. This patient also experiences anxiety when thinking about how to overcome the difficulties of arriving at the oncology appointment on time and will often miss appointments.

Empathy in Healthcare

Empathizing and understanding the patient’s predicament is a powerful step in enabling innovative solutions to emerge. Connecting with the patient is essential fieldwork that must be done. Discover the specific problems, gather details, and let the patient know that these concerns are being heard. Innovative solutions might include basic things like sending appointment reminders via text message instead of email.

When administrators and oncology staff develop the group’s ability to recognize situations from the patient’s perspective, solving problems becomes another good housekeeping habit. Most importantly, the practice of empathy develops the skill itself. In the absence of empathic questions from practitioners and administrators, the patients are more likely to feel neglected and left to fend for themselves.

At Horizon Oncology & Research Center, our patients are our number one priority. We provide quality, compassionate care in a delicate atmosphere of trust and concern. Through our wide range of comprehensive cancer services, we ensure our patients and their families feel cared for and respected.