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Reimagining cancer care at Stanford Hospital

Redesigning the experience of healing from the perspective of patients and their families.

DESIGN RESEARCH + PROJECT LEADERSHIP

Finding opportunities for healing beyond the hospital

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The Cancer Center at Stanford Hospital recently opened its new facilities on Stanford's medical campus. Years before that, however, a cross-disciplinary team of doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses, performance consultants, and administrators set out to understand the needs of the patients and families they'd be serving.

In collaboration with Michael Brennan – then CEO of United Way Detroit – I guided the Stanford Hospital team through their first experience of applying human-centered design in their work place. Over the course of 11 weeks, Michael and I led the team through introductory design sprints to get familiarized with human-centered design, qualitative user research with patients and families inside and outside of the hospital, synthesis of findings, and creation of recommendations for further actions. We also helped the team build a strong culture of collaboration and support of creative risk-taking.

Methods

  • Interviews with patients and families inside the hospital
  • Observations in waiting rooms, hallways, patients' rooms, and parking lots
  • Journey maps
  • Empathy maps for synthesis of research
  • Brainstorming and rapid experience prototyping
  • Co-creation and testing with patients, families, and hospital staff.

Key insight

Most of the healing takes place outside of the four walls of the hospital. In fact, patients wish to spend as little time as possible in the hospital. Users expressed feeling confused and scared when they arrived at the hospital, and said it felt like going off of a cliff when they were discharged. To deliver excellent care throughout the healing experience, the hospital should focus more on care that takes place before and after the patient enters the building.

 Journey map of the healing experience for a cancer patient. We worked on this in the hallway to allow people who passed by to provide input.

Journey map of the healing experience for a cancer patient. We worked on this in the hallway to allow people who passed by to provide input.

Initial prototype

We started by picking some low-hanging fruit: improving the admissions process. Instead of waiting for patients to reach out to us when they have questions or concerns, we designed a proactive solution. It was quite simple. We had one of our staff members call the patient before their arrival to let them know we looked forward to caring for them, and to answer and resolve their clinical and non-clinical questions about their upcoming admission. This way the patient felt cared for, and the care team was better prepared once the patient arrived.

Process and organizational change

When we first began working with the team, the only space available for us to meet in was in a room in a basement with no windows and leftover furniture stored away. We knew immediately that this environment wasn't going to work for us. The energy was low and the team felt like they were hiding from their colleagues and managers.

 Our original meeting space in the basement.

Our original meeting space in the basement.

 Moving our work out into the open.

Moving our work out into the open.

Michael and I decided to move all our work sessions with the team out into the open. Getting permission to work in a hallway seemed hard, so we simply began doing it. It didn't take long before patients and other hospital staff stopped by to observe or ask questions. The change in environment also made our team more confident in the value of their work.

 Sharing prototypes with staff and patients in the hallway.

Sharing prototypes with staff and patients in the hallway.

This process tweak culminated with a presentation of the results of testing some initial prototypes with patients and their families. Instead of using a conference room and Powerpoint, we used a hallway and some windows.

This project was a part of the Stanford d.school class d.leadership. In it an outstanding student is paired with an executive to lead a team from an industry partner through their first experience with design thinking.

 First day on the job with Michael.

First day on the job with Michael.

 Last day at the hospital.

Last day at the hospital.