Digital service design is key for the public sector. As we move increasingly online, ensuring everyone from the public through to employees can access, use and navigate them is vital.
But designing these services is no easy task. There are a vast range of public bodies, whether that’s at a central or local level, each with their own specific needs and requirements. At the same time, they have a diverse range of stakeholders, all who must be catered for when creating a service.
One area where these challenges are particularly pertinent is in the NHS. The NHS is one of the biggest organisations in the UK, hiring and providing a huge range of services for millions of people every day. It is also a service that’s under huge pressure to deliver. This means that designing services has many specific issues that need consideration.
To name a few, NHS staff are under huge time pressures as they care for an ever increasing number of patients. At the same time, the existing technology landscape in the NHS is disjointed with different services relying on various legacy solutions from different suppliers. This further makes navigating digital solutions to find where issues lie and to make upgrades complicated.
The issues of stakeholder availability and legacy technology are not exclusive to the NHS. But when combined with other challenges, such as healthcare inequalities and patient well being, they create a unique, complex, set of circumstances for designers to work in.
So, what can designers do when working with the NHS to navigate this complex area and provide the best services and patients?
First, service designers can’t only focus on one set of users. Their approach must put everyone’s needs first. This includes patients, families, clinical staff, non-clinical staff, and digital product specialists.
Healthcare services are delivered by different departments and multiple providers. By taking a full service approach, service designers can ensure they create a comprehensive picture of everyone’s requirements and that they make the right interventions. If not they will miss key tensions, challenges, and opportunities.
At the same time, designers need to be engaging with as many healthcare teams as possible. This doesn’t only mean primary and secondary care providers, but also those in administrative and digital teams. Healthcare service experiences involve many different people and teams, so capturing all their perspectives for research is vital. Everyone deserves a say on the services they use and it’s important to bring them along on the journey.
Once designers have an understanding of the challenges a service faces, they must make sure they can prove their work will have a meaningful impact. After all, what’s the point of spending time and resources for an improvement project if you can’t prove the end outcome has led to an improvement? To do this, designers need to focus on developing hypotheses about what needs to change and use it to think of interventions. They must also plan data they’ll need to gather and measure to prove what improvements have been made.
As well as this, their services need to be flexible, changing to meet the needs of healthcare systems with different capabilities. Imagine if a designer was working on a new digital care model to support older people with frailties at the national level, that health systems can put in place down the line. Different health systems have different challenges, whether that be the demographics or health requirements of their population. To address this, the service needs to have clear decision points, and flexible options. This is so health systems can choose service specifications that meet their needs. This can include giving options for different workflows to be delivered digitally or physically, or providing different ways a service can be accessed based on geographical location.
The NHS plays a key role in most people’s lives. This is why ensuring every service is designed in a way that meets the needs of health systems, staff and patients, is vital. For service designers, this is no easy task, but by considering every stakeholder’s needs, demonstrating benefits and making sure services can meet different requirements, they can go a long way to building services that benefit everyone, both now and in the future.