Attending SXSW in Austin, Texas, this spring felt like it lit up a light bulb inside me. It illuminated the potential answer to a question that I, and most other hospital leaders, have struggled with for decades: How can the American healthcare industry do better at providing high-quality, more accessible care while keeping costs down for the consumer, the payer and the provider?
The answer, I have realized, may well lie in internal design.
At SXSW, experts across various industries, most notably Katrina Alcorn, general manager of design at IBM, and Sandy Fershee, now a design and innovation executive at Tonal and formerly a design leader at Ford, discussed how implementing internal design teams dedicated to bridging the creative (or in our industry’s case, strategy) side of the business with the operational side has allowed them to pivot in a post-pandemic era, drive innovation and technological advances, and achieve organizational objectives.
In that “aha” moment, I envisioned a similar path forward through the creation of an internal design team at the organization I lead, Tampa General Hospital. Simply stated, the core mission of a dedicated internal design team is to look five to 10 years down the road and try to forecast what consumers will want and need, how we will enhance healthcare and make it more affordable, and develop a route for getting there.
While a focused design approach isn’t new to the technology or automotive sectors—or many other industries—it isn’t widely embraced in healthcare. It should be.
Until recently, Tampa General, like most other healthcare organizations, operated in two broad silos. Our strategy side—functions such as marketing, business development, community relations and analytics—focused on driving consumers to our health system and meeting community needs. Our operations side—acute-care inpatient and outpatient services, emergency care and physician services—focused on care delivery.
But what about designing for the future? Historically, internal design has not been handled by a dedicated team. Instead, it has been managed through one-off projects assigned to collaborative working groups of strategy and operations team members. Team members would be selected, based on their specific expertise or skill sets in relation to the task at hand, to tackle one of these “special projects” while continuing to execute their other roles and responsibilities.
Then came my light-bulb experience at SXSW. After the conference, I went back to Tampa General inspired by what I had learned and launched an internal design team focused on building our future and serving as a constant bridge between our strategy and operations systemwide.