When you’re working in an industry like healthcare, navigating its problems can feel like trying to untangle the Gordian knot.
Between the regulatory, financial, and procedural realities of the health care world, it’s hard to find a place to begin, much less straighten everything out. So, instead of trying to unravel the service innovation problem the same way everyone else has, the best way to handle it is to take a step back and slice right through it.
Allina Health was in need of just that kind of approach. At the heart of their work is the belief that great care isn’t just about outcomes, but about the entirety of a patient’s experience as a person — even outside of the injury, illness, or issue at hand. And, when you understand each patient's experience fully, outcomes also improve. In short, connecting with a person fully isn’t just a nice thing to do — it has actual health benefits.
Once we had uncovered this unique point of view that was woven into the fabric of their organization, it was clear we needed to look at their work differently, and in a way that went beyond industry norms. To start, we worked to imagine a completely new experience for care that starts in the clinic — and reimagine what this space could be, physically, emotionally and socially. Through this work, we discovered a few key insights that will prove valuable for any team looking to chart a new course within a complex industry.
1. Give yourself permission to think broadly.
While it seems like a no-brainer, the first step is to broaden the realm you’re thinking about. The power of this approach became very clear when socializing our work with internal teams that live and die by ROI runways, payer models and a million other concerns that are necessary to consider in a typical health care project. Instead of getting stuck in the weeds of how our work fit into any existing work streams/business models/strategic pillars, the conversation suddenly shifted to what was possible and what the team was excited about. Rather than closing doors on the feasibility of the work, the team began finding ways to open new ones.
How we did it:
For Allina, we started by resisting our inclination to jump to the drawing board. Instead, we looked to experiences that sat adjacent to traditional health care, but that lived squarely in the realm of people’s real lives — experiences in education, community, spiritual, exercise and retail spaces. What we found were architectural and programmatic examples of spaces that created destinations in and of themselves — spaces that encouraged lingering, that fostered community and that enhanced learning.
2. Use testing as input, not validation.
As a designer, the word “testing” can send a chill right through me. What if people’s outside opinions don't align with the careful work that was done? What if they “just don’t get it?” Here, however, we used testing in the same way one might sketch before painting. We were able to start broadly and make mistakes, get our perspective aligned correctly, and move on from there. Subsequent rounds of qualitative testing let us ask more probing questions of consumers to understand their motivations and how they saw each clinic concept. These conversations led to changes and refinements in the work that made it stronger, and gave us (and our clients) the confidence to defend ideas that at first blush might appear out of place in a health care context. Testing became our vehicle to help move the work forward, and an invaluable resource to gain deeper understanding of consumers’ thinking.
How we did it:
Taking the most inspiring elements of the holistic experiences we’d found in our research, we developed a series of testable value propositions. These value propositions provided the team with a quick way to assess consumer interest and weed out ideas that lacked viability. We questioned whether placing a clinic in a retail setting would be desirable to consumers (surprisingly, not really); whether integrating natural elements could become a core concept of care; and whether creating more, smaller clinics with staff that could get to know patients would be beneficial. We used the responses to fuel and inform our next rounds of refinements, but not to dictate every part of them.
3. Think of your work as a series of component parts.
Our goal was always to develop a system of parts that could extend the brand vision into Allina Health's physical environment, both the clinic and beyond. To do this, we couldn’t rely on a single conceptual vision – we had to build out components that would be flexible, be able to be re-arranged and that could stand on their own in the abstract. We used this core system as a way to retain what we’d learned from our research and testing, while ultimately providing Allina's facilities and operations team a system that could scale to a range of projects in various stages of development.
How we did it:
With the most potent value propositions in hand from our testing, we partnered with Snow Kreilich Architects to refine our thinking further and translate the core tenets of the brand into physical experiences. We asked ourselves questions like: How can we increase engagement with the clinic in meaningful ways? What role should the clinic play within the larger organization? Can we use the space to both integrate into the community and create community? We refined ideas over a span of months, testing elements and going back to the drawing board. By breaking our thinking into components, we were able to carry forward ideas that resonated with consumers (small, walkable local clinics, for instance), while re-imagining elements that didn’t (what if the waiting room was also a cafe?).
A new vision for care
The result was a rich combination of modular experiences that create spaces for convenience care, educational programming, personalized health plan creation and consultation, and ongoing ownership of health through supporting digital tools. These new services support existing “back of house” clinical care, and provide new channels for engagement in the long-term.
More importantly, the process also resulted in our clients’ ability to think more nimbly, to get outside of the historical barriers that have held them back from fulfilling the real purpose of their organization, and to see how smaller, more modular ideas and actions can lead them toward lasting, successful change. In an industry caught in a tightening knot of market, policy and incentive forces, elevating the conversation became more than an exercise in vision-setting — it became the best way to cut straight through the knot and take charge of the future.
Find out more about how Zeus Jones works with health care clients to modernize the industry.