Shaping Social Policy: Designers and Health

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Battle of Ideas festival 2009, Royal College of Art, London

Everyone agrees healthcare needs to be improved, but can attempts to alter patients’ and staff’s behaviour succeed? And will focusing on patient satisfaction be enough to transform the NHS and wider healthcare provision?

Healthcare and the NHS are in a state of flux: the shift toward prevention, target-setting and-cost cutting are motivating many to seek new ways of working. A new breed of designers is at the forefront of arguing for the re-designing of the delivery of services based on ‘patient needs’. This means improving their experience of healthcare, and measuring success by ‘patient satisfaction’. This isn’t simply about designing things to be more convenient for patients in hospitals and surgeries, however, but is part of a wider trend towards using design to encourage people to change the way they live, and adopt healthier lifestyles, preventing illness.

 
Encouraged by a new breed of policy makers, designers believe they are better able than politicians and clinicians to nudge people into making healthier choices, by transforming the physical environment, improving food labelling, creating incentives to lose weight or give up smoking, and even re-thinking how a receptionist answers the phone. It is hoped that of all of this and more will influence how people behave – with regard to their own health and the services they consume. But will services re-designed around a patient’s experience be enough to transform healthcare, and is all of this genuinely about empowering patients to make the right choices, or really about the nanny state making choices for us?
Everyone agrees healthcare needs to be improved, but can attempts to alter patients’ and staff’s behaviour succeed? And will focusing on patient satisfaction be enough to transform the NHS and wider healthcare provision? Or does this only obscure the economic, political and infrastructure problems that underlie the failings of the health service? At a time when healthcare faces drastic cutbacks, some argue it makes economic sense to discourage people from choosing unhealthy lives and becoming a drain on resources. But is it the place of designers to implement such a contentious agenda? Will making patients accept the ‘terms and conditions’ of a health care system before being allowed to access its services be good for anyone? 
Speakers were
Alastair Donald urban designer; researcher; co-editor The Lure of the city: from slums to suburbs
Maja Kecman senior associate, patient safety group, Helen Hamlyn Centre, Royal College of Art; industrial design engineer and consultant
Dr Lynne Maher interim director, innovation, NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement; author, Making a Bigger Difference NHS guide
Jason Mesut experience director, The Team; design specialist, healthcare user experience, NHS and private sector
Professor Joe Kerr head of Department of Critical & Historical Studies. RCA; author, London from Punk to Blair; bus driver
Chair: Martyn Perks director, Thinking Apart; co-author Big Potatoes: the London manifesto for innovation
Produced by:
Martyn Perks director, Thinking Apart; co-author Big Potatoes: the London manifesto for innovation