Waiting time for breast cancer screening has been reduced by 90 per cent at Oslo University Hospital. The secret of this success is not costly health reform, but an innovative project headed by designers who got the different professional environments to pull in the same direction.
Design pays off! And achieving radical improvements in the health sector need not cost a fortune! That message will be music to the ears of newly appointed Minister for Health and Care Services Bent Høie, who will be present when Oslo University Hospital today presents its new patient procedure for breast cancer diagnosis. The government has already given an ambitious assurance that the waiting time for cancer treatment will be brought down to less than 48 hours, although there remains some doubt as to what this assurance will cost.
Groundbreaking innovation project
Previously, it could take anything up to 12 weeks from the doctor discovering a lump on the patient’s breast to suspicion of cancer being confirmed or disproven by Oslo University Hospital. For many women this waiting time was an enormous burden on top of worrying about the actual disease. Now the waiting time has been reduced by 90 per cent to about 48 hours. The honour for this goes to a groundbreaking and, in a hospital context, unique innovation project.
In 2012, Oslo University Hospital received a grant of NOK 800,000 from the Design-driven Innovation Programme (DIP) to finance a pilot project entitled “If the patient could decide – evaluation and treatment for suspected breast cancer”. The money was used to finance the concept stage and ensure that design methodology was a common thread throughout the project. Following an open tender, implementation of the project was awarded to the design firm Designit.
Significant societal benefits
It was the designers who got the management and specialists at Oslo University Hospital to see the writing on the wall – literally, says Dr. Andreas Moan, project director at Oslo University Hospital. “The designers gained entirely new knowledge by asking all the seemingly silly questions that we thought we knew the answers to,” explains Andreas Moan. “They then illustrated the issues in such a way that everyone at the hospital gained a common understanding of the best way forward.” He is convinced that the results from Oslo University Hospital’s breast cancer project can be applied to other departments and hospitals. “Many of the same problems are probably the cause of the bottlenecks and poor flow in the patient’s passage through the treatment centres across the country,” says Andreas Moan. “I hope that projects involving design methodology and user involvement will become commonplace in all hospitals.”
“Design-driven innovation can result in enormous societal benefits without it requiring major investments,” adds Skule Storheill, director R&D and innovation with the Norwegian Design Council and responsible for the Design-driven Innovation Programme. “In reality, only our fantasy sets the limits of how and where the methodology can be put to best use for you and me.”
The patient is the expert
The designers shifted the focus by putting the patient experience at the core of the project. Through in-depth interviews with patients and health care personnel, observations and a review of routines, division of responsibility and communication, both needs and challenges could be mapped. This was presented in such a way that everyone understood the challenges and the way to achieve our objective. Andreas Moan explains that the designers helped the hospital by asking the right questions and applying the answers in their interpretation and understanding of the realities.
“The health care system is extremely conservative, and as specialists we quickly become used to thinking that we know best,” says Andreas Moan. “Now we need to get used to asking the health care system’s least used group of experts – the patients. I hope the results from this project can serve as a wake-up call and a reminder. We in the health care sector must never stop thinking innovatively.”