Carnegie Mellon University

Service Design

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Rethinking Primary Care Delivery

doctor and patient consultation

Students at Carnegie Mellon's School of Design recently worked with the Mayo Clinic's Center for Innovation on a project aimed at improving primary care delivery.

In a podcast on iTunes U, the clinic's Maggie Breslin (A'04), senior designer and researcher, and Carnegie Mellon Professor Shelley Evenson discuss the collaboration between the clinic and service design students at the university. (Download the podcast on iTunes U.)

Breslin highlights that while there's been an exponential growth of medical knowledge from 1945 to today, there's been virtually no change in  how that health care is delivered. Years ago, people had one doctor that they saw, for most of their lives, and that physician knew everything about their patient.

But with the increase in medical knowledge and specialization, plus the increase in mobility among the U.S. population, that old model just doesn't work as well anymore.

"Most people's primary care is no longer coordinated — it is in fact very fractured," Breslin said. "Patients often end up being the only one who has all of the knowledge in one place."

The goal for the Center for Innovation at the Mayo Clinic, which is also reflected in larger policy initiatives at the government level, is to bring a multi-disciplinary approach on transforming how healthcare is delivered. Designers and researchers are part of that multi-disciplinary thinking because they bring a very human-centric approach to these topics.

"We're looking at figuring out how we should be delivering primary care in today's modern age," Breslin said.

How did working with Carnegie Mellon help this project? The course drew students from a variety of disciplines: design, architecture, human-computer interaction.

Working with the Mayo Clinic and the third partner in the project — the design firm Continuum — the students tackled a complex and interdisciplinary problem with excitement, says Evenson.

Students in the course spent time examining the research results, understanding and defining the problem, and developing new concepts for addressing this challenge. Each of the five teams had different approaches, but all came up with the idea of "patient care teams" — where patients become more responsible for their own care. Physicians would become part of "service teams" providing care for patients.

Breslin noted that the students' ideas were very well received at the Mayo Clinic. A key factor, Breslin added, was that the students really understood the core, important idea of healthcare: the relationship between the patient and a care provider.

Related Links: School of Design  |  BusinessWeek Article on Maggie Breslin  |  School of Architecture  |  HCII