A Different Approach to Problem-Solving

Posted on by CATALYSIS

In healthcare there is no shortage of problems to solve. Some problems seem to have an easy solution, while others require a much deeper look to understand them. There are many tools for improvement that healthcare organizations use to see and solve problems, including things like 5S, error proofing, pareto charts, and process flow mapping. Some approaches that are not as commonly used are patient discovery and prototyping. These are phases in the design process used in new care model development, but they can be helpful in problem-solving and improvement as well.

Below are brief overviews of each of these approaches to help give you ideas of how you could utilize them in your work.

Patient Discovery

Einstein said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I would spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.” Patient discovery is part of the learning phase. The intent is to research and explore so you can really understand the patient’s needs and wants so you solve the right problem. Think of this as gathering information for the left side of the A3.

When designing a new care model, the discovery phase is in-depth and usually done on a large scale with hundreds of hours of research in a formal way. However, it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes it is just not feasible. Remember, something is better than nothing. You may try things like asking patients questions in a waiting room or catching up with people in the cafeteria.

One piece of advice for taking this approach is to get curious. Pretend like you know nothing about the problem or the process and let the patients tell you. Assume that all of your assumptions are wrong. You might be surprised at what you learn. If you go into this with an open mind it can be fun, exciting, and fulfilling.


Prototyping is all about testing your hypothesis. The idea is to determine whether the solution or countermeasure you are considering is desirable, feasible, viable, and impactful. When prototyping you want to find the cheapest and fastest way to test your most risky assumptions.

You might find it helpful to think of this as mini dress rehearsals before you go live with your new idea or solution. Some small-scale ways to prototype your idea are calling patients to “pitch” or share scenarios and get feedback. You could consider running simulations, or even creating an online add and measuring clicks to see if the idea is actually appealing in the market.

With this approach you need to get creative. Don’t be afraid to fail…Fail fast, fail cheap, and fail forward.

While patient discovery and prototyping are associated with the design process and new care model development, they can be helpful tools in many problem-solving and improvement scenarios. Remember that you will need to clearly identify the customer for the process that you are working on. Be curious and creative and do not be afraid to think outside the box.

If you are interested in learning more about prototyping check out the Pre-Summit workshop Prototyping Techniques in Healthcare Delivery: Fail Fast Safely to Accelerate Learning held virtually on May 25th.

Check out this white paper to learn more about New Care Model Development.

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