Using Good Design To Eliminate Medical Errors | FastCo Design

This article exemplifies how I think design thinking combined with patient safety/quality improvement tools will change health care. However, the road will not be easy:

The lead designer of DOME [‘designing out medical error’] was Jonathan West…he initially thought there’d be one or two glaring areas for improvement that could be tackled in a couple big designs. He quickly realized, though, while shadowing doctors and nurses at the hospitals of the Imperial College of London, that what makes the problem so persistent is that it’s extremely complex.

“It’s not like an airplane falling out of sky or a nuclear power plant exploding–there’s no one big thing,” West says. “The process is different for each patient, so the process can go wrong in unique ways, which makes it very hard to tackle in terms of design.”

Unfortunately, not only is the task difficult, but current financial incentives are not aligned for investment in such initiatives. Improving design in health care will require upfront investment whose return is difficult to measure [1] and ultimately decreases revenues [2]. But, we know it is best for the patient, the ultimate guiding edict in medicine.

We need physicians and other health care providers trained in design thinking to move patient safety/quality improvement efforts forward.


  1. Note which outcomes they cited in measuring the success of the CareCentre: ‘Compared to wards with standard equipment, those with the CareCentre had better hand hygiene, fresh glove and apron use, and old glove and apron disposal.’ These are all process measures; there is no indication of whether or not medical errors were reduced or if more patients got better.  ↩

  2. Remember, under our current fee-for-service system, most hospitals get paid more for doing things. Preventing errors means there is less to do.  ↩

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