News & Views

Feature Story

How Patients, Families Help Improve Their Care

Kaiser Permanente’s use of human-centered design is highlighted in the New England Journal of Medicine Catalyst.

July 11, 2018



Kaiser Permanente patients, health care providers, and staff working together during a co-design session. Kaiser Permanente patients, health care providers and staff working together during a co-design session.

Several years ago, a team of Kaiser Permanente caregivers from Northern California noticed that patients who were in for nuclear stress testing were showing signs of anxiety. Getting stressed about the test — a moderately invasive procedure that uses radioactive dye and an imaging machine to create pictures showing blood flow to the heart — was understandable, but the medical staff knew there had to be a way to help their patients feel less anxious.

Using state-of-the-art performance improvement techniques and innovative human-centered design methodologies, Kaiser Permanente staff developed an improved process by using their greatest allies: their patients.

By listening to patients, the team quickly understood where and when they felt most anxious. Patients were nervous about the test and wanted more human connection; the medical staff wanted the power and the tools to make it happen.

The staff rolled up their sleeves side by side with patients and their families to redesign the process, asking what didn’t work and what bothered them most. New workflows were co-designed with patients: the average time it took to transport patients to the test went from 80 minutes to less than 14, and patients were given more information more often during the procedure.

The new approach was an immediate success: None of the 10 patients interviewed after implementing the improved workflow reported feeling anxiety or stress.

Kaiser Permanente Human-Centered Design Logo

Partnership with patients and families is at the heart of how human-centered design is practiced at Kaiser Permanente.

“Laser focus on people”

This integration of performance improvement techniques and human-centered design methodologies in large companies such as IBM is becoming commonplace. But in health care, it’s still relatively new. And according to a recent article published in the New England Journal of Medicine Catalyst (an online publication that specializes in practical innovations in health care delivery), Kaiser Permanente is at the forefront of this trend.

“Human-centered design brings laser focus on people, their experiences and their needs,” said Estee Neuwirth, a senior director at Kaiser Permanente and a co-author of the article. “By focusing on people’s needs and co-creating solutions with our patients and their families, we can create even better systems and get better outcomes.”

In the article, the authors from Kaiser Permanente and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement not only analyze the value that human-centered design brings to system improvement, but also provide a how-to guide that helps organizations bring greater joy, meaning and creative problem-solving approaches through partnership with patients and families.