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Building a smarter healthcare system

Tackling a wicked problem in healthcare

When it comes to difficult and pressing challenges, healthcare is certainly high on the list. The complexities can leave decision makers feeling powerless to solve them. Here are some thoughts on how to work toward a solution.

Rotman Designworks was asked to look ways to improve the treatment of heart disease for Medtronic, a leading global medical device company, and the Hamilton General Hospital. In the course of our project, we were reminded that a key success factor in helping to make any system work is recognizing the needs of each individual stakeholder. Only by building an integrated solution can we make the overall system work better.


"Physicians have to realize that they do not own the patient. They are all working together."

- Participant in a Designworks study of Medtronic and the Hamilton General Hospital


While every medical professional has their own important role and set of needs, following are the needs they collectively shared:

  • Knowledge and Understanding: To be abreast of the latest and most up to date information affecting patient care and clinical outcomes.
  • Network Support: To be in synch with and supported by their professional network (closely and broadly), and to know they can count on others to give patients the best medical care and deliver what’s needed.
  • Control: To be confident they have the abilities, tools and systems to control the process and environment, and the outcomes of their patients.
  • Professional Confidence: To have faith in their own abilities, their colleagues and the system in doing the right thing.
  • Respect and Recognition: To be acknowledged and respected for the position they hold and the contribution they make to their profession and the patients’ lives.

For the patients, the needs (both emotional and practical) that we uncovered were:

  • Understanding: Patient empowerment and participation in the process is key. It is vital for them to understand everything as it pertains to their treatment – physical aspects, the care process, options and decisions, lifestyle changes. 
  • Simplicity: Conflicting messages and incomprehensible technical jargon and data only make the journey more difficult. The treatment process needs to be simple and easy to follow.

  • Personal Support: To alleviate anxiety, patients need to feel competently supported and connected to family, medical professionals and other patients.
  • Peace of Mind: To have a sense of physical and emotional well-being is an important aspect in managing anxiety and overall health.

A healthcare system is a delicate balance of stakeholders. Each of them must be considered equally, because each represents a vital link to optimizing both patient outcomes and cost management. In the case of smarter healthcare, the solution is not necessarily about spending more money, but rather finding cost-effective solutions to deliver better patient outcomes and experiences.

Heather Fraser is an adjunct professor at the Rotman School of Management and a co-founder of Rotman Designworks.

Read the full article in Rotman Management magazine.

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