Shaping Social Policy: Designers and Health

Sunday 1 November, 3.45pm until 5.15pm, Student Union

Healthcare and the NHS are in a state of flux: the shift toward prevention, target-setting and-cost cutting are motivating many to seek new ways of working. A new breed of designers is at the forefront of arguing for the re-designing of the delivery of services based on ‘patient needs’. This means improving their experience of healthcare, and measuring success by ‘patient satisfaction’. This isn’t simply about designing things to be more convenient for patients in hospitals and surgeries, however, but is part of a wider trend towards using design to encourage people to change the way they live, and adopt healthier lifestyles, preventing illness.

Encouraged by a new breed of policy makers, designers believe they are better able than politicians and clinicians to nudge people into making healthier choices, by transforming the physical environment, improving food labelling, creating incentives to lose weight or give up smoking, and even re-thinking how a receptionist answers the phone. It is hoped that of all of this and more will influence how people behave – with regard to their own health and the services they consume. But will services re-designed around a patient’s experience be enough to transform healthcare, and is all of this genuinely about empowering patients to make the right choices, or really about the nanny state making choices for us?

Everyone agrees healthcare needs to be improved, but can attempts to alter patients’ and staff’s behaviour succeed? And will focusing on patient satisfaction be enough to transform the NHS and wider healthcare provision? Or does this only obscure the economic, political and infrastructure problems that underlie the failings of the health service? At a time when healthcare faces drastic cutbacks, some argue it makes economic sense to discourage people from choosing unhealthy lives and becoming a drain on resources. But is it the place of designers to implement such a contentious agenda? Will making patients accept the ‘terms and conditions’ of a health care system before being allowed to access its services be good for anyone?

Alastair Donald
associate director, Future Cities Project; architecture programme manager, British Council

Maja Kecman
senior associate, patient safety group, Helen Hamlyn Centre, Royal College of Art; industrial design engineer and consultant

Dr Lynne Maher
interim director, innovation, NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement; author, Making a Bigger Difference NHS guide

Jason Mesut
experience director, The Team; design specialist, healthcare user experience, NHS and private sector

Professor Joe Kerr
head of Department of Critical & Historical Studies. RCA; author, London from Punk to Blair; bus driver

Martyn Perks
digital business consultant and writer; co-author, Big Potatoes: the London manifesto for innovation

Produced by
Martyn Perks digital business consultant and writer; co-author, Big Potatoes: the London manifesto for innovation
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