Healthcare Has a Design Problem, but There’s a Remedy

March 15, 2019, 12:08 AM UTC

Dr. Bon Ku, assistant dean for health and design at Thomas Jefferson University, opened his talk at Fortune’s Brainstorm Design conference in Singapore last Wednesday with a damning indictment of the healthcare industry from a design point of view. He believes that the industry as a whole “fails to recognize the purpose of design.”

Ku says he confronts poor design whenever he enters a hospital. He’s forced to use a fax machine, for instance, and required to employ electronic health records that he says have “crushed the souls of physicians.” Ku and his colleagues must make 4,000 keyboard clicks each shift because the system is designed without a thought for its end users. To a horrified audience, Ku revealed that the only thing that differentiates rectal and oral digital thermometers is a red dot on the top put there by nurses to ensure they are kept separate.

It’s clear to Ku that poor design in healthcare leads to poor experiences, both for physicians and patients. “Healthcare suffers from a lack of creativity,” he said. “There this misconception that if you’re a creative type then you’re never going to go into healthcare or become a doctor or a nurse. I believe that making people healthier is a creative pursuit.”

Ku started the first program in a U.S. medical school for teaching design thinking to medical students. They learned to brainstorm their ideas, storyboard concepts and challenge the assumptions. They also prototyped solutions to some of the most challenging problems in healthcare, such as a visual checklist that helps to reduce medical errors in patients with sepsis and a redesigned urine cup that prevents contamination.

“Sepsis and urine aren’t as sexy as designing a beautiful museum or the next smartphone,” Ku said, “but I think that making products that improve the lives of patients is just as important­­—and more satisfying.”

For more coverage of Fortune’s Brainstorm Design conference, click here.