Digital Health Lab – A Service Designer’s Experience

DigitalHealthLab-Blog4I really had no idea exactly how the day would play out. Victoria Betton had described it as a ‘hack’ type event. I knew we were working within NHS Mental Health Services and were about to look at the future of services with the addition of ‘digital’ and ‘apps’. I knew service managers, technical, digital, mobile and design professionals would be there. I agreed to go along to contribute and learn about current service knowledge/ideas and maybe enable a a few service design/innovation projects to start.

We were welcomed by our host for the day Mike Chitty, who presented a very open and accessible hackday, we were invited to “shout if we start using jargon or you don’t understand something”. Alongside the whole event we had an illustrator, Tom Bailey, observing conversations, and visualising what people were saying, to help people’s understanding throughout the day and to visualise different groups’ service concepts at top level as they developed.


I was really delighted when we then went round the room introducing ourselves and declaring our interests for the day. This is always a great start, so you can pitch your conversations appropriately and connect with people more quickly. I was attending with two hats, one as a ‘service design and innovation consultant’ (translation: people centered designer – who does digital) and two as a family care giver for my elderly father who has Alzheimer’s amongst other health conditions (translation: bringing much personal insight on older people/dementia care management).

So a few people raised project ideas they were interested in pursuing and attendees could self select which group they would join. It was made clear from the start you were not bound to one group and could move around if that suited you. My ears pricked up straight away when one attendee mentioned older peoples’ care, that they had a project and three from the team were there. Another attendee mentioned they were also interested in dementia services. So I joined the older people/dementia project conversation.

As a service designer I use sketching to help enable idea development and group understanding, so I started to sketch what people were saying and noted down key points. This activity always raises a few eyebrows (why are you sketching/drawing what I am saying?), but it really helps people clarify what they really mean and enable shared understanding to develop ideas more quickly. The service managers started by saying “we’re not digital designers, so we’re very new to this”, to which I responded – “you are experts on your patients, staff and service needs… we can add the digital advice”. For some reason people can feel like they are ‘lesser’ because of their limited knowledge of digital – this is a mistake, they under estimate the value of patient/staff and service knowledge they already have which is equally valuable. Another challenge we had to address was leaping to the conclusion “we need an app for this!” believing that making a solution a digital app on a tablet will solve everything. This is not the case and sometimes a simpler web solution could do the job and be accessible to more users.

So with our group we scouted through a number of people and service needs around older people and dementia services.
i) The Mount: Wards 3&4
– patient information support while in hospital
– learning digital skills for self help, recovery and general life
ii) City wide Dementia Cafés
– reinvented with digital

We chose to focus on the Mount Hospital Wards 3&4 needs as a whole. Our conversation turned to the needs they were going to meet, the way the services work today, the needs they meet well already, the gaps, the difficulties experienced by staff and patients. People can be a little shocked that this is of interest – as it is their ‘everyday experience’, but without this deeper shared understanding, whatever you come up with may look great but not guarantee to work in the real world.


We then looked at digital options – instead of jumping to a final product concept we looked at the idea of a ‘minimum viable product’ ie. what digital activities could the service managers start doing now themselves to gather deeper learnings on patient/staff /service needs… to feed into a more developed and informed project at a later stage – our solution was a wordpress site – free on the web – starting as soon as they were ready.

We then had to prepare a presentation for the dragons den at the end of the day.
So how far had we got? We had:
• let everyone bring their insights/views/knowledge to the table
• discovered how Ward 3&4 work today
• dared to dream what an ideal patient/staff/service experience could be
• explored the patient and staff needs/experiences as we saw them
• explored the wider context of digital inclusion outside the project
• explored the current digital skills class
• identified gaps in our knowledge of what did and didn’t work currently
• imagined what we could do tomorrow to make a start…

Having visualised our ideas and conversations from the whole day on white cards we could start to lay them out as a story on the large white table cloth (our presentation canvas).

DigitalHealthLab-BlogOur final presentation was a work in progress… the service management team were in a totally different place from where they had started… their challenge looked very different and they had something to show their manager from the day. There was a sense of excitement and satisfaction in having achieved and learned something together. The tablecloth was  going back to the office, where they were going to proudly present it on the wall. No doubt new conversations have sprung up as a result of this and I look forward to seeing how it all develops.

About Kathryn Grace

Service Design and Innovation Consultant
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Digital Health Lab – A Service Designer’s Experience

  1. Really good article Kathryn. We are considering running a haealth hack in Stockholm and your approach is very relevant. Well written blog, too.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s