Enhancing Marketing Effectiveness Through Healthcare Service Design

The emerging discipline of service design is rooted in a new understanding: there is no such thing as isolated interactions between users, brand and the contexts in which the brand appears. Customers mentally meld all their fragmentary, moment-by-moment impressions of interactions together into one overall impression. Service design is about brand owners and marketers building a whole picture view and using it to create more valuable service experiences for customers. It’s set to be a major force in healthcare, and in practical terms it can be envisaged in four stages. 

1. Develop deep patient perspective - understand what the patient is experiencing.

Healthcare service design (HSD) starts by thoroughly mapping all the patient’s interactions, (physical and digital), that relate to his/her condition. This means interactions not just with the treatment and the care team, but also with the whole environment that’s connected with the condition and the care. 



For any healthcare condition the key task at this stage is to gain an understanding of what the patient is experiencing physically and emotionally. It’s a lot of information and not all of it will be actionable. 

This deep understanding reveals moments of truth, where simple gestures from the brand have resonating impact with its customers. Whether it’s providing diabetes patients with Certified Diabetes Educators, or ensuring MS patients are greeted with a blanket and entertainment upon arrival at an infusion center, service solutions become highly visible when contextual insight is revealed.

2. Understand your current brand/service in relation to the condition concerned 

Any self-respecting brand/service can provide an “official” technical mapping of how it fits into the treatment of a condition. The challenge is to get real about your brand/service to generate a nuanced, fleshed-out map. Where is the brand/service in its lifecycle? What value does it bring to the treatment beyond functional characteristics such as safety and efficacy? 

For example, a key challenge across health populations is that the promise of better health isn’t intrinsically motivating. Exploring how the brand can help patients accomplish their own goals and act upon their own values becomes imperative for brands to stay relevant across this customer journey.

3. Identify desired brand/service outcomes and patient behaviors

The obvious objective here is for the brand to increase market share and/or improve profitability. Effective HSD demands thinking and acting beyond the obvious.

It’s a lot easier for the brand to change what it does than for patients. The brand can make informed, strategic decisions and implement them with discipline and determination. For the most part patients are trying to make it through as best they can. Even taking their medication regularly is a challenge for many.

As marketers, changing minds has distracted us from changing behaviors. An outcomes-centric approach ensures brands are designing for the key behaviors they must demonstrate as the promised benefit of the service. This behavior-centric approach is surprisingly insightful. By simply making the behaviors we’re designing for easier for stakeholders to pursue, we’re often able to deliver significant results back to the brand. 

For example, instead of focusing on messaging to OAK patients to see a specialist, design a website service to help find an orthopedic surgeon near them to make this behavior easier to do.

4. Design and build a service

The guiding thought from here on must be: Given the patient’s condition, what would be the best possible experience they could have in dealing with it, and how can our brand shape that experience? This means more than creating a handy pill dispenser or designing a smartphone app. 

Today’s patients expect to be actively involved in the healthcare process (from tracking the progress of their condition to participating in clinical studies or even giving advice to other patients). 

Your HSD process must ensure that every touch point contributes to enabling or changing a desired patient behavior. Today’s HCPs can help us better understand the way resources need to be designed for them to be successful in their practice. Patients can help us see and understand the challenges they face and the ways in which we as a brand can help. This involvement can optimize a service to deliver a competitive advantage in the marketplace, or even reveal entirely new service offerings the brand can provide going forward.

The author was a member of the 2014 Health Effie Awards Final Round Jury.

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