Designing services with patients calls for curiosity and empathy

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Science Journalist for ACAMH

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Dr Victoria Betton is a social worker by training and has spent many years working in the NHS and with her local authority, before working in public involvement in the NHS using digital technologies. She currently leads mHabitat, a digital innovation team that is part of Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.

“I took my knowledge from the NHS about involving patients and combined that with design tools from commercial software development,” she said, “What we do is co-design. We design things collaboratively with the people that are going to end up using them” said Victoria “we believe you end up with better products and nservices that people want and like,” she said.

“We’ve usually got an idea or a problem that needs solving, then we involve end users, young people, families and practitioners in designing solutions to that problem together.”

She said that in the NHS, people often only involve service users such as young people at the end of the process, when the product or service is already developed.

“The difference in co-design is you bring people together, often in a workshop environment, and use creative processes to come up with design ideas against a brief,” she said. When working with young people, they often make use of drawing and tactile toys like Play Doh to explore ideas.

“If there’s a digital focus then we’d actually be getting paper and scissors and designing paper versions of an app,” she said.

For those interested in co-design, Victoria recommends the ‘DIY Toolkit’ a service design guide developed by Nesta UK, a charity which supports innovation. “They’ve got free tools you can just download and use in your project,” she said. Victoria said the team often begins by asking the workshop if they’re actually asking the right question in the first place, she gave the example of a project where a service that used mainly phone calls and letters wanted to improve young people’s access and communication with CAMHS.

The mHabitat team assumed that because young people might have to travel quite far to get to a consultation, they’d prefer a video consultation instead. But, after speaking to them, they found out that a lack of privacy at home meant many would rather receive the cost of the bus fare electronically – allowing them to come and see a consultant in person.

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