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To drive innovation and manage change, health systems call on design thinking

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Current health system practices are not sufficient to address growing rates of obesity and diabetes, health and economic disparities and cost control. "A Design Thinking Framework for Healthcare Management and Innovation" argues that addressing these complex challenges will require leaders that can think, and act, more like designers.

"Perhaps one of the greatest threats to solving 21st century problems in healthcare is not a lack of vision or resources, but a lack of creativity. At its core, design thinking is about building creative competency into an organization's day-to-day operations and strategy," says Jess Roberts, Principal Design Strategist for Allina Health.

"To innovate in an increasingly complex and competitive world, the business community has come to rely on design thinking – a term that describes the problem-solving, creative processes that have transformed product design and service delivery. We argue that healthcare could benefit greatly by doing the same," Roberts says.

The authors describe and offer tools for three key elements of a design thinking framework which include empathy, radical collaboration and rapid prototyping. "By starting with empathy for our patients, families, employees, and communities, design thinking allows innovation to be driven by 'user' experiences and needs rather than top-down expertise, which is often the case," Roberts says.

The authors illustrate how design thinking complements and differs from the scientific method and process improvement and is especially well suited for wicked problems or those complex problems that don't have a right answer. "We have already successfully launched this framework with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, and inside Allina Health," Roberts says.

In addition to Roberts, Thomas Fisher, MA, University of Minnesota, Matthew Trowbridge, MD, MPH, University of Virginia School of Medicine, and Christine Bent, MHA, executive vice president of Allina Health, were co-authors on the paper that was published in the March issue of Healthcare.

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About Allina Health

Allina Health is dedicated to the prevention and treatment of illness and enhancing the greater health of individuals, families and communities throughout Minnesota and western Wisconsin. A not-for-profit health care system, Allina Health cares for patients from beginning to end-of-life through its 90+ clinics, 13 hospitals, 15 retail pharmacies, specialty care centers and specialty medical services, home care, senior transitions, hospice care, home oxygen and medical equipment and emergency medical transportation services.

For more information, visit us at allinahealth.org, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Healthy Set Go.

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Gloria O'Connell
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