How UT Austin’s Human-Centered Design Program Will Give Future Health Change Actors ‘Another Kind of Courage’

New masters program focused on human-centered healthcare design aims to reduce healthcare delivery to basics, triggering change “at the human level,” says Stacey Chang, executive director of the Design Institute for Health of the University of Texas at Austin’s Dell School of Medicine.

“The opportunity in health and healthcare really is at the human level. We see health care and health systems as a group of individual human beings, some who need care and others who want to provide care, ”Chang said. “The exchange of value is a very human need, but the health system has responded primarily to its financial incentives and less to human needs, at least in recent decades.”

He continued: “In a return to its roots – in the need to take care and the need that people need to be taken care of – design plays a very important role, first of all, in reiterating or revealing those needs. as they have evolved, and then create new solutions to those needs in ways that the current system does not. “

This is the central premise of human-centered design, a concept that has guided the design of much of modern society, but healthcare has been slow to embrace. “It’s about designing with a deep understanding of the intended user of a product or service and their needs, and then taking those ideas and knowledge into your own hands to create something meaningful,” said Doreen Lorenzo, Associate Dean of the School of Design and Creation at UT Austin. Technologies.

The “Design in Health” program, announced in December, is already accepting applications and will start in August. The degree is a joint offering of the Design Institute for Health and the School of Design, the latter hosted within the College of Fine Arts at UT Austin.

Mr Chang and Ms Lorenzo said the program, which they believe is the first of its kind in the world, was itself designed with a specific group of humans in mind.

“This was driven by the students,” Ms. Lorenzo said. “Our medical students were very interested in health design, and I think it builds on the work that Stacey and the team did at the Design Institute for Health. When you listen to the students say, ‘We want to do this’ and ‘This is what we think we can do’ – to me there is nothing more powerful than that. “

Dell Medical School was already offering an “increase in the traditional clinical curriculum” by allowing medical students to earn degrees in related fields such as business, biomedical engineering and public health in addition to their medical degrees, he said. Chang said, but students were increasingly interested in the work being done at the School of Design and Creative Technologies.

“We, in essence, have been coaxed into it – not that we’re not reluctant at all,” he explained. “They said, ‘This sounds like an interesting and viable skill set for us, if our role in the future is really to be creative physician-leaders. Would you be willing to teach us design? “”

Thus, the Design Institute for Health was born. Over time, however, Chang and his team realized that the demand for human-centered design in healthcare extends far beyond the clinical setting – organizations across the entire ecosystem of healthcare. Healthcare are looking for leaders and team members with the tools to reorganize healthcare with users. in mind – resulting in the creation of the multidisciplinary degree.

This multidisciplinary approach can be just as remarkable as the subject of the program: “A hallmark of this program is the ability for outside students interested in health and health care to attend school with students from abroad. medicine, ”Ms. Lorenzo said. “We think it’s a really powerful mix and that good things will come out of it.”

No matter where these “change makers” are found, the program’s goal is to foster the creativity and original perspective needed to solve the “really big and thorny challenges” of the industry, Mr. Chang.

“Part of the problem with the health care system is that we often gradually overhaul things that already exist. It is part of the risk averse nature of health and health care,” he said. “We know that making the big changes necessary to meet our needs will take a very different courage, made possible by a very different skill set, and hopefully that’s the design.”

This set of tools will come through “project-based and experiential” teaching, Ms. Lorenzo explained, “by equipping students with these tools and understanding what it takes to accomplish something like that and give them the confidence to go there. and do it. “

Without that practical element, “it’s just theory,” Chang added. “It’s like handing someone a hammer and describing how it works – until they really know how to handle that hammer, they really aren’t able to change.”

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Abdul J. Gaspar

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