ELEVATING THE HUMAN EXPERIENCE: Using Human-Centered Design in Health and Human Services Programs.

Author:Fishman, Tiffany Dovey

Health and human services programs play a vital role in people's lives by providing health care and other needs-based social safety nets. Too often, the human experience of recipients engaging with these programs takes a back seat to business processes designed to meet administrative and compliance requirements. Take the typical emergency room (ER) experience, for example. Across many rural communities, emergency rooms serve as the front door to the health care system. Patients go to the ER for all manner of medical needs-emergent and nonemergent-which frequently leads to long wait times.

Such was the case at Fort Apache Indian Reservation's Whiteriver Indian Hospital, which receives 40,000 visits every year--six times the national average for a department its size. With wait times up to six hours, nearly a quarter of patients left before they were seen. For a subset of these patients, what started out as mid-level conditions worsened and the cost of treating them subsequently rose. (1)

Enter human-centered design (HCD), which Marliza Rivera, a quality control officer at Whiteriver Indian Hospital, and her colleagues used to redesign the hospital check-in process. Under the new fast-track system, clinicians were stationed at the ER entrance and triaged patients within 15 minutes of their arrival. Non-emergent cases were separated from emergent cases and treated without interrupting the flow of care to patients requiring emergency services. The result was a dramatic reduction in the percentage of patients leaving the ER untreated--down from 18 percent to just 1 percent during the pilot. (2) The results prompted a broader redesign of the hospital's emergency department to separate patients in need of emergency services from those with less urgent care needs, a $150,000 renovation that is estimated to save the hospital $6 million. (3)

What is Human-Centered Design?

Human-centered design brings the human being into focus, starting with the premise that an individual's beliefs, values, feelings, and ambitions are important because they form the foundation for who they are and what they want from the organizations with which they engage. Human experience encompasses an organization's workforce and partners as well. Indeed, connecting with these stakeholders on a more human level is critical to providing a better experience and delivering improved outcomes for the children and families H/HS agencies serve.

HCD puts people at the center of the...

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