Design Thinking For Students and Future Professionals - Mayo Center for Innovation

Design Thinking For Students

Post Written By Megan Zimmerman

The Center for Innovation (CFI) at Mayo Clinic is focused on changing and improving the way we experience and deliver healthcare for all patients and families. Design thinking is changing the physical environment of hospitals and clinics, the practice models used to deliver care, and the way providers approach complex health issues. Design thinking is a model that encourages divergent thinking, which means you look broadly, suggest unique ideas, and offer solutions that differ from the status quo. By encouraging this open thinking, health care professionals can generate creative ideas, ask more questions, and choose several options as good solutions.

To learn more about design thinking, I spoke with Matthew Gardner, a Service Designer at the Center for Innovation. The CFI team starts by identifying the needs of the patients and looks for ways to design services, products, and practice models to meet those needs. Matthew outlined the process he uses when he works on a project. He said that much of his time is spent trying to understand the problem and identify several solutions. He gathers stories from care providers to understand the situation, learns about the root of the problem, and broadens the scope for potential solutions. Mr. Gardner’s recently finished a project designed to improve the quality of life and healthcare experience for patients with diabetes. The CFI team developed an online system that enables patients to connect with their doctors from their home. They found that the patients knew what to do but they needed help doing it. So, each patient was assigned a wellness coach that provided the support the patients needed. In addition to providing more individualized healthcare, the system also reduced the cost to the patient because they did not need to see a provider every time they had a question.

Mr. Gardner discussed how healthcare providers are trained to come up with the best decision possible in a short amount of time. This type of thinking can be very important when a patient’s life is at stake. However, non-life threatening medical care could be addressed with several possible interventions or solutions. Mr. Gardner also discussed flexible thinking. This idea is applied to healthcare professionals. A flexible thinker takes what he or she knows to be true to make decisions, but is also willing to listen to alternative perspectives.

While I agree it is important for healthcare providers to make lifesaving decisions with accuracy and efficiency, I think flexible thinking can be limiting when we are trying to solve complex problems. Design thinking models could be used to help every health care practitioner think broadly. I believe that if we are looking to transform healthcare, then we must be willing to change the way we think about the problem. Some aspects of healthcare must stay the same because we must make decisions quickly to save the lives of our patients. However, when patients have complex health needs, a design thinking approach would help identify creative and alternative solutions.

As a future health care professional, I am very interesting in applying design thinking to student curriculum. For the past fifteen years, I have been taught how to take standardized tests. First it was the MCA’s in elementary and middle school, then it was the ACT in high school, and the GRE in college. I have done countless practice problems and I have been taught every strategy to improve my score and ensure my success. I have not, however, been prepared for my future career as a physical therapist from any of those exams. They have not taught me how to think creatively or how to generate novel ideas. I had the opportunity to be creative and explore new approaches in several classes in college, but I haven’t really been tested or graded on my creativity. We need healthcare professionals who can provide better care for patients. Students should be taught how to think critically and creatively. Design thinking incorporated in the curriculum would allow future healthcare professionals to solve increasingly complex problems.