Digitization means rethinking processes. But this is not always easy in practice. In an interview, Prof. Uli Weinberg tells me how design thinking approaches can also help the healthcare sector to master the challenges of digital transformation.
Prof. Weinberg, first of all, we probably need to tell our interested readers how design thinking fits in with the KHZG, or rather how it can support those responsible in the face of potential challenges.
We probably should. Basically, Design Thinking is an approach to solve challenges, generate new ideas and always keep the user with his needs and wishes in mind. Or in other words, the HPI School of Design Thinking’s specialty is to support people and companies in transformative times.
You’ve been doing that for 14 years. Have the challenges changed since then?
By now, almost the entire society is undergoing a digital transformation, and the biggest challenge that actually all industries face – including healthcare – is the following: Companies must learn to move away from what they offer. Today, the focus is no longer on the product or the service, but on users, customers, or even patients. This is a paradigm shift that is not easy in every place.
That’s interesting, because healthcare is ultimately about the patient, his or her treatment and, ideally, recovery.
Absolutely. But in the healthcare sector in particular, an enormous amount of experience has grown up over the centuries. There are entire branches of business that are based on the fact that certain things are needed for treatments and examinations, all of which is extremely, I’ll call it, “well-developed”. And in all of this, the patient behind it is quite often no longer visible or perceptible at all. I remember a long conversation a few years ago with a professor at the Charité, who recorded and explained his specialty to me in great detail on a white board. With all the information, connections and dependencies, after about an hour I asked where the patient actually was. He played no role at all in the whole, very detailed explanation. This is an aspect that currently strikes me not only in medicine, but in many areas.
In your opinion, what conclusions should those responsible in hospitals draw from this?
I think it is important for the treatment of patients not only to see a person who has a bad knee, for example, but perhaps also has family problems, eats poorly, has to climb a lot of stairs and is a smoker. Because all these factors have an immense influence on his recovery, including that of a knee. And it is precisely this holistic view of a patient that can succeed with a design thinking approach – especially if various experts are involved in the treatment.
Now hospitals already have their hands full with the digitization projects around the KHZG and now you come along and say, strikingly speaking, that the hospitals must additionally take a design thinking approach into account. Is that perhaps too much of a good thing in the current phase?
Design thinking supports transformation processes, so it is not an additional burden to incorporate such an approach now within the framework of the KHZG. On the contrary. Again, I have a real-world example that underscores my argument. By way of background, a patient was admitted to the emergency department with a leg injury and received care there. However, the staff was unaware that this patient also had dementia. He then, confused about the injury and hospitalization, left the ER in an unguarded moment, which even made it through the press. This was the trigger for the hospital to take a closer look at the entire procedure and also the “patient experience” in the emergency room. The question at that time was: How can important information reach the practitioners, facilitate their work and thus improve patient care? And this is exactly what politics is currently concerned with with the KHZG funding.
So design thinking ensures that analog processes are not just transferred one-to-one to the digital world, but are ideally rethought?
Exactly. I like to compare this with the Brockhaus, which has grown analog over 200 years and is the instrument of knowledge aggregation. Now comes the digital replacement, organized completely differently. What we have here is not a PDF version of the Brockhaus, but a network of terms that are stored digitally in any location, but can be accessed at any time via the respective keyword. And these points of knowledge are even linked to other points of knowledge, and are thus in a context. Analog structures such as alphabetical order thus become superfluous. We can transfer this new pattern of networking very well to various aspects and even entire industries. So instead of continuing to maintain silos and specializations in the healthcare sector and carefully separating them from one another, which was necessary in the analog world to keep knowledge manageable, we now have the opportunity to provide patient-oriented care through greater networking. However, the Brockhaus structure still prevails in people’s minds. And for a successful digital transformation, we need to recognize this structure on the one hand and then break it down, which is where design thinking can make a major contribution, in my opinion.