How good service design led to an excellent interactions with the NHS

I had an appointment at the breast clinic. It was the smoothest, least stressful experience I’ve ever had when seeking healthcare.

They called it a one-stop shop. You went in and saw a doctor, had any scans needed and were told the next steps the same day. This all happened within a 1-3 hour visit.

What made it so smooth was the handoff between the various practitioners I saw.

After having my initial consultation with the doctor, I was sent to another room for a scan. I fully expected to have to tell the the radiographer my whole life story again, but to my surprise, when I walked in they had already received my notes, had read them and could relay back to me all the relevant things I had said to the doctor a few minutes earlier.

I had my scan and was sent back to the initial doctor for a debrief. The doctor had already received my results and could tell me that I had nothing to worry about. Obviously, this is not the outcome everyone receives and the doctor was visibly pleased that my scare was nothing to be worried about. It was comforting to have this emotion expressed by a healthcare professional. The results and the doctors reaction lifted my mood immensely.

How is this experience different? And why is it noteworthy?

Too often we are left to explain our case over and over again as we are sent from pillar to post. Not just in healthcare but other industries too. It’s surprisingly uncommon to have a joined up service which is why good service design is important and can have a great impact on the impression of a service and the outcome for its users.

Good service design = good business

In this experience, someone had thought through the patient experience and the supporting tools and needs of the staff delivering the service. When service users, staff and those supporting the delivery of a service are listened to through user research, they can share their expert knowledge of the pains and frustrations they face. This can and should inform and influence the design of a more joined up experience for their users. Not only does it lead to a better experience for users, it also makes the job of the team delivering the service easier, which can improve productivity, efficiency and outcomes. Happier staff can lead to better services and happier users.

But how?

Quite often we work within constraints that mean that with all the will in the world and all the insights from service users, we are hamstrung in the improvements we can make.

It’s all well and good knowing there’s an issue, documenting and socialising it within the UCD teams, but we also need the buy-in from senior leaders and those with technical skills to understand the systems, how they currently work and how they could work.

Some of the best teams I’ve worked with had developers and technical architects that were willing to attend show and tells and visit the sites their systems were being used at. They built empathy for users and often went above and beyond to implement improvements.

Sometimes however, it’s not that simple and there really isn’t much developers can achieve on their own. Systems that don’t talk to each other can be locked down and it’s impossible (so I’ve heard) to open them up.

Illustrating to stakeholders the cost savings and efficiency savings an improvement can make can really help to drive home and get backing for the need to improve services. It may mean changing systems, which I know can be an extremely costly and sometimes prohibitive exercise.

However, showing that the improvement will reduce backlogs and lead to X% additional patients being seen is usually a good start in kicking off the conversation to get buy-in to make a change.

I have found that emphasising the savings that could be made, other service improvement factors such as improved satisfaction scores, fewer complaints and building empathy through storytelling has been the most successful technique to encourage stakeholders to be open to changes that will improve their services.

Back to the NHS

I’m relatively confident that the service at the breast clinic wasn’t always as smooth as it is now. Someone, somewhere was able to demonstrate the immense benefits of designing and implementing a joined up service.

I wish and hope other services inside healthcare and within other industries learn from their example.

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