Better Outcomes By Design

How Does Service Design Work in Health Care?


Better Outcomes By Design


Post Written by Philip Kersten


Thinking disruptively is not something society typically encourages--or rewards. The desire to change something that already works is an odd drive that has been opposed by those of the mindset that if something isn’t broken it shouldn’t be fixed. However, this desire to change--and improve upon--current models of an existing system is exactly what the Mayo Clinic’s Center for Innovation (CFI) encourages and hopes to cultivate.

CFI-SoundcloudThis disruptive approach becomes evident the moment one enters the CFI, in a very literal sense. Brandishing one of the entrance walls is a chalkboard etched with the almost punitive repetition of the phrase “I will think disruptively, I will think disruptively, I will think disruptively...” This piece functions as a passive reminder to the service designers of the CFI as they make their daily pass of this chalkboard and into their open office space. It is their job to think disruptively or, in other words, to find innovative ways to improve upon the existing systems within the Mayo Clinic.

Many companies, such as McDonald’s and Best Buy, hire service designers to find ways to increase efficiency and profitability. The CFI is different. Not only is it unique among healthcare providers as a source for innovation, the service designers of the CFI focus on improving the health outcomes of patients.

Service designers like the CFI’s Matthew Gardner describe their work as being similar to “trying to reinvent the screwdriver.” Many of the things the CFI seeks to change may not even be recognized by the rest of the medical community as something that needs an alternative. This is where thinking disruptively comes into play.

What is Service DesignThe first step in innovation is developing an understanding of the process via observation. Service designers do not simply observe at a distance, however; to better understand the process they put themselves in the shoes of the people going through the system. If they are redesigning a specific part of the patient care process, it is important to know what it is like to be a person being treated in that process or even what it is like to be one of the care providers in the same system.

Knowing these things, service designers can more effectively troubleshoot the existing system and test for places where the system may be lacking. After researching the area in question and observing how the system functions under the status quo, service designers begin the creative process. They prototype new methods with unconventional approaches.  Some of these prototypes eventually bear fruit and start potentially game changing trends. Others may yield unfavorable results.

Yet, at the CFI one learns quickly that even if a project fails to take off, there has not been a failure on the part of innovation. If anything, every project, successful or otherwise, is a step forward on the path of understanding healthcare and how it can be changed for the better.


Phillip Kersten is currently a student at the University of Minnesota Rochester, and an Intern Writer at CFI.

Phillip Kersten is currently a student at the University of Minnesota Rochester, and an Intern Writer at CFI.














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