It's not often that an architect gets to reimagine the future of healthcare. But presented with the rare opportunity to build an entire health center from the ground up at a new clinic and surgery center in Minneapolis, the University of Minnesota Health, or M Health, decided to completely upend how it thinks about patient experience and up the ante against its competition—and it enlisted CannonDesign to help.
"If you look at M Health, you have a 'small' competitor due south called the Mayo Clinic," Michael Pukszta, leader of CannonDesign's healthcare practice, says. "When you look at who you’re going up against—what is recognized as the finest clinic—the task is pretty large. It’s like a new computer company going up against Apple."
So when the firm—a finalist in the 2015 Innovation by Design awards—set out to revamp how patients interacted with the health center, it looked to other industries, from consumer tech to the airline industry, to inform its design.
When Pukszta and his team were thinking about the scale of changes they wanted to make, they looked to one of the biggest user experience turnarounds of the last decade: airline check-in.
In the past, checking in meant standing in line, talking to a customer service person, and receiving a paper ticket. Now, you can check into an airport before you arrive, obtain an e-ticket on your smartphone, and—aside from security checkpoints—board a plane without having to talk to a single person. Travelers also have the option of using automated kiosks to check-in, change or upgrade seats, and handle baggage needs. It was about reaching the final point—the airplane—the fastest, most efficient way.
Pukszta saw a parallel with the user experience of healthcare, which requires a lot of paperwork and involves many steps before reaching the end "destination"—a doctor. "It's how do we get patients to the value point quickest?" he says.
This insight led the designers to excise anything that slowed down the patient journey in the clinic, which largely revolved around paperwork. Now instead of stopping at a reception desk to check in, waiting to get called up to receive the right paperwork, filling out the forms, returning to the desk to submit them, and then waiting again to be admitted, patients fill everything out online before arrival.
"Check in is much shorter," Mary Johnson, Chief Operating Officer of the University of Minnesota Physicians and project lead for the new center, says. "It's about clarification, versus information gathering."
M Health conducted focus groups with people who weren't currently patients to figure out what common health care experiences were frustrating and what might alleviate the pain points. Subjects were also asked to think about experiences outside of healthcare that they liked, and what exactly kept them coming back—an important business strategy for healthcare providers who want to retain a strong patient base.
Time—and efficiency—were common threads. And unsurprisingly, Apple frequently came up as an inspiration. In fact, the computer company's retail temples have already influenced healthcare design elsewhere. "They mostly wanted convenience and for things to go more smoothly," Johnson says. "People have busy lives these days and they love the idea of doing things ahead of time."
Before an appointment at the Clinics & Surgery Center patients fill out all their intake paperwork online. When they step into the center, there's no formal reception desk. "Concierges" with tablets and mobile devices greet them and check them in—an experience similar to that of checking into the Apple store.
Initially, M Health was skeptical of the system, and concerned it could pose undue burden on certain patient groups that might not be technically fluent or have access to the Internet. The focus group interviews allayed their concern. "The assumption about socioeconomics, age, and smart devices were completely blown away," Johnson says. "Most people have them.