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On a recent trip to Berlin, I was able to tour the Bauhaus archives.  This collection revealed a unique creative environment in Berlin in the 1920’s  that produced radically new and functional designs.  The shift to Modernism was striking in its effect.  There is much to learn from the Bauhaus movement.

Even though, the Bauhaus which was started by Walter Gropius was to focus on architecture, there was no architecture department at the start. The focus was on encouraging design and design thinking.

The question that arose for me from this experience was ” can we apply design thinking to our healthcare system?”  If we try, then the outcomes in new organizational design in healthcare might be as striking as the red cube house design from 1922.

Design thinking applied to new healthcare organizations is about being confident in experimentation directed at solving problems.  The first step is to recognize the problems. That’s a very valuable starting point.

Next, the focus must be on creativity related to people, processes and operating philosophies. If the operating philosophy encourages everyone to be innovative, then creativity can be mobilized.  If not, then nothing will happen. The new regime in Germany in the 1930’s did not want creativity so the Bauhaus closed.

Patients’ outcomes in healthcare organizations are the direct result of the decisions that are made. What if , in designing new healthcare organizations, we focus on the architecture of decision making? It is essential to understand how decisions are made, who makes them and what processes are used.

Rarely, do we audit the decision processes within hospitals or clinics but it is the quality of these decisions that determines if the patient requiring surgery will get the right surgery at the right time with the right surgeon.

To support design thinking, small focused experiments in organizational design must be encouraged to test ideas. Many of these experiments will fail. Success is often built on a string of failures that have provided the opportunity to learn.

The cost of experimenting has dropped because of the availability of secure cloud based systems and apps. Cost is not the constraint. Protecting the status quo and the cultural resistance to change, albeit very slow, is the issue.

To succeed with design thinking, everyone on the design team must have a voice. Hierarchy or power based on status is a deterrent to deep engagement. Everyone must be encouraged to be creative and to participate. The ultimate is to achieve group flow (total immersion and joy in work) in the new processes that result from design thinking.

Here’s a case study of new organizational design. Rupert Case Management (RCM) was retained by a 500 unit drug store chain. The drug store chain committed over $1M in testing equipment to a free clinical programme for their customers. Unfortunately, the pharmacists who felt confident dispensing pills were not willing to transition to their new role advising patients.

In response to this resistance, RCM used “design thinking” to register a clinical trial with Health Canada. All of the pharmacists were “deputized” as clinical researchers. Then we taught them how to do the tests, collect data and advise clients. This new organizational design was transformative for the culture of this drug store chain. The programme which we designed continues to be very successful and has won awards in the industry.

As you can see from this case study, we have much to gain from design thinking in transforming our healthcare organizations. Thanks to Walter Gropius and the Bauhaus movement of the 1920’s, we have an example of how design thinking can make a difference.