Are hospitals ready to embrace creativity?

hospitals are hotbeds of creativity by gaping void

Hospitals are laggards.

Hospitals are one of the few industries that have yet to embrace the experience economy. And yet the business hospitals are in – the business of caring and healing – makes them a perfect candidate for experience transformation. For the ultimate aim of a hospital is (or should be) the transformation, through care and compassion, of the people it serves – from sickness to wellbeing.

But the transformation of hospitals is coming.

Transformation fueled by seeing patients differently.

Transformation fueled by seeing beyond isolated care incidents to the broader care journey.

Transformation fueled by unleashing the tremendous creativity of hospital staff that has been constrained until now by an industrial age approach to medicine.

Seeing patients differently

Goethe once said “The way you see people is the way you treat them, and the way you treat them is what they become.”

Currently the majority of hospitals (and the health care system as a whole) see a patient as an object. A chart. A disease. An illness. A body part.

patient as object vs person

By treating people as patients, as objects, seeing their illness rather than the whole person, the hospitals contribute to a mindset of helplessness in the face of “medical experts.” And this places the person at risk of becoming how they are treated: helpless, needy, perhaps “noncompliant” patients with little or no control over their care experience. People, however, don’t see themselves as patients. They don’t identify with their illness or disease. They see themselves as people. People with family, friends, caregivers, and communities. People with a dream of health. people partners at center of care

As hospitals transform themselves, a first step is reframing how they see patients. From patients to people. People capable of becoming partners in a journey from illness to wellbeing. Partners capable of co-creating that journey.

Seeing beyond isolated care incidents to the broader care journey

No one wants to be a patient in a hospital.

Patients are often confused, afraid, sometimes terrified, and always anxious. And yet, if you’ve ever been in a hospital as a patient, caregiver, or family member, you know how convoluted, impersonal, and objectifying the typical hospital experience is.

That’s because hospitals have traditionally been designed around what’s efficient for health providers, not for the people they serve. They’re designed around disjointed processes, not around holistic care experiences. They’re designed around staff and facility efficiency, union rules, and societal workweeks, not around people’s emotions. They’re designed for in-hospital expediency only, not for either the patient experience or the patient’s broader care journey.

Care experience journeys, from a patient’s perspective, aren’t mapped, understood, or designed for. And this impacts patient outcomes such as recovery time, length of stay, hospital readmittance, and long term well being.

Unsuprisingly Singapore, having embraced design at all levels, is embracing design to transform its hospitals. Ng Teng Fong General Hospital & Jurong Community Hospital’s mission, for example, is Stay Well. Heal. Empower. “We want to ensure that the healthy stay healthy, the sick get well and the community is empowered to manage their well-being.” As part of their effort to transform care Ng Teng Fong General Hospital is mapping and reimagining care journeys.

Here’s what their lengthy process for a typical outpatient visit looks like today.

outpatient journey before

And here is the redesigned journey, reimagined, from the outpatient’s perspective.

outpatient journey after

This example of a reimagined outpatient journey is one small step in reimagining the care experience. For future health is about people giving and receiving physical, emotional, and spiritual care across the entire care ecosystem.

Seeing hospital staff as creative catalysts

Who is best poised to innovate the hospital experience?

The staff.

The front line people who, day in and day out, work with and care for the people visiting the hospitals.

But not staff in isolation. Staff partnering with – co-designing with – patients, families, partners, and communities.

The question then becomes: How might we unleash the creativity of staff that has, until now, been tightly constrained by an industrial age approach to medicine?

While the possibilities raised by exploring this question will vary with each hospital, some common threads include:

  • Restoring purpose: Do your staff share a common purpose? Or does the person delivering food trays simply plop the tray down teetering at the edge of the bedside table next to a vomit basin full of spit up and dirty kleenexes out of reach of the patient? Sure, they may have done their job as specified in in their job description. But they’ve done it within a functional silo without empathy or caring. They lack any connection or commitment to a higher purpose, a purpose that inspires them to see beyond the tasks in their job description. Imagine a hospital where every staff member believed their most important job was to provide the kind of care they would want for members of their own family. Creativity flourishes in purpose-driven organizations. How might your hospital define a compelling purpose that ignites care in every staff member and creates a powerful context within which staff can innovate the patient experience?
  • Shaping culture: Most safety, quality, and patient experience initatives in hospitals are treated as projects, not as organizational design challenges. As a result, while projects may deliver results in the short term, the pendulum soon swings back to business as usual because the underlying culture – the beliefs and habits of your staff – hasn’t changed. Not surprising when, as Atul Gawande said in his commencement speech at Harvard Medical School, “We train, hire, and pay doctors to be cowboys. But it’s pit crews people need.” But change is in the air. Hospitals are beginning to recognize the importance of shaping a culture of collaboration and creativity that values empathy, nutures relationships, and creates meaningful human-to-human interactions. Cleveland Clinic’s Health Care’s Service Fanatics, for example, is differentiating itself by building empathy into its culture. All employees, even administrators and janitors, are seen as caregivers with a role to play to reimagining the patient experience.
  • Empowering staff to be creative and innovate: How might you train doctors to be designers? Connect nurses into a community of change catalysts? Put in place learning, support, and systems to empower staff to work collaboratively and innovate? There are many possibilities. NHS’s participation toolkit. Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s Innovation Hub. MetroHealth’s Department of Integration and Transformation “Known as DoIT, this organizational structure moves past ‘thinking outside the box’ and seeks to ‘remove the box completely’ in order to innovate and solve problems… When you are on the front lines, you know what needs to be changed and how to succeed. We have put in place an environment that supports our team – where everyone is encouraged to seek solutions through the path that they think will be most efficient and effective. This approach allows for experimentation and failure, which I believe is often the fastest and best way to learn.”

A first step in growing hospital creativity: start asking What If

What If seems like such a simple question, but it’s a powerful technique for surfacing assumptions and imagining alternative possibilities.

What if patients designed experience surveys?

This What If question, asked by Jason A. Wolf, President of The Beryl Institute, revealed patient priorities differed from what many hospitals imagined were priorities.

When asking What If questions don’t limit yourself to what feels practical. Sometimes the What If’s that seem to be the most impractical or far fetched lead to the most interesting possbilities. Here are a few other What If’s to prime your creative pump.

  • What if doctors saw themselves as designers?
  • What if patients designed their own care journeys?
  • What if care focused on well being rather than treatment?
  • What if doctors could prescribe nutritious and tasty food, heat, social support, or other resources for patients the same way they prescribe medication?
  • What if hospitals became social innovation labs where patients, families, and caregivers were the experts, makers, and collaborators creating new health tools, technologies, and systems?
  • What if hospitals offered warranties?
  • What if we designed a hospital without walls?
  • What if patients ran your hospital?

What if everyone in your hospital became a creative catalyst?

Health problems are growing. Chronic conditions are worsening. The world’s population is aging. And the industrial model of care is being disrupted.

If care and compassion are to be the core of a health care system, then ‘hospital’—as concept, physical structure, symbol and site of  the medical system in its largest possible scale—needs to be reframed and reclaimed. ~The Hospital Project

Imagine if hospitals tackled, as a matter of course, these complex problems – seeing them not as problems, but as possibilities. As opportunities for innovating care.

If everyone in your hospital became a creative catalyst, if creativity became core to your DNA, you’d have the creative intelligence to do just that.

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