How to apply Behavioral Design to healthcare

Modern healthcare challenges require the development of solutions that interrupt your existing processes and need new capabilities. Behavioral Design is one of the capabilities that will be an asset for you as your products, services, and portfolios disrupt and are disrupted.

We recently launched our Behavioral Health Design Playbook for leaders in the healthcare and pharma industries to focus on why and how to effectively apply behavioral design methodologies, tools, and mindsets in their business.

One component of this playbook was our Behavioral Design Framework in which we outlined steps, outcomes, tools, and recommendations for you to use as a starting point to applying this methodology.

Part 1: Problem space

The ‘Problem space’ contains the first four steps of the framework: ‘Scope’, ‘Explore’, ‘Detect’, ‘Reframe’. This first space is designed to ensure that your business has a relentless focus on the context and behaviors that inform the decisions of your targeted user or customer. Within the ‘problem space’ there is a natural divergence and convergence, similar to in the double diamond framework. Divergence as you explore the journeys, behaviors, and biases of a patient, and convergence as you prioritize the decisions you can influence, that will trigger healthy behavior.

This space concludes with the crafting of a Behavioral Challenge Statement which will serve as the guide rails for you to move into the ‘Intervention space’.

Key tools

Part 2: Intervention space

The ‘Intervention space’ contains the last four steps of the framework – ‘Design’, ‘Intervene’, ‘Adapt’, ‘Reflect’. At this point in the process, your task is to identify the most effective way to intervene in the user or customer decision. You do this by coming up with many intervention ideas, and testing them in the context of the real decision making process. 

As you put stimulus and prototypes into the hands of your audience, whether those are patients or doctors, make sure to set up tests where you can measure behavior change. How does your intervention trigger a change in the action a patient takes? 

The testing you conduct is iterative, and should be repeated until you have sufficient qualitative and quantitative evidence to confidently move ahead.

The ‘Intervention space’ ends with the validation of your intervention. We have added the final step ‘Reflect’, which is often overlooked, but absolutely critical. After you understand the best way to influence a behavior, you need to address the impact it will have on the larger context of the ‘problem space’. For example, activating people with potential signs/symptoms of cancer to visit a doctor, will impact the role of the doctor; more educated patients, new communication tools, different or more frequent diagnostic testing, etc. 

Key tools

Pitfalls of applying the framework

We know from experience that putting a framework on a page and telling you to run with it can be challenging. There are a few key risks to this model that you can consider as you plan to integrate Behavioral Design into your innovation programs.

Risk 1: A scope that is too general or too narrow

Under- or over-scoping can be a risk leading to exploration that is either too general or too narrow. A good scope should be defined by the strategic direction your business wants to set out, and a space (e.g. a section of a journey) that is worth exploring. If your scope is aligned to a justified strategy, what you uncover in the ‘Explore’ and ‘Detect’ phases will be valuable across the business. Remember to include others in the scoping process to get cross-functional perspectives.

Risk 2: Using existing research blindly

Our clients often come to us with mounds of research that their teams have conducted. Some of it is useful and some of it is not. If you are using existing research to base your understanding of your patient or doctor on, make sure the research is recent, segmented, and developed with external input. It is important to map out the assumptions you make about the target audience, and split the I know from the I think. Build on the existing research, and dig deeper into the behavior within your specific scope.

Risk 3: Being afraid to focus on a decision

Converging can be a scary process, but is crucial in defining the specific decisions on a patient journey that your business should prioritize. Your research should bring you to key points of decisions for the patient, where you can dive deeper into the biases and context of that decision. Granularity is more important in behavioral design as the act of influencing behavior comes down to designing an intervention that attempts to tackle the root cause of a bad, incorrect or unhealthy decision. You cannot address this for an entire section of a patient journey or general pain for a persona.

By mapping, analysing, and understanding the drivers behind human behavior, you’ll be able to fully adapt your way of working and your services to meet customers’ needs. While at the same time increasing the impact of your business solutions and positively influencing the health of the population you’re invested in. Whatever your specific business challenge might be, behavioral design methods are the solution to bringing value to your customers – and your business.

Behavioral health design playbook

Learn more about applying behavioral design to healthcare innovation. Check out our newest guide on applying behavioral design to healthcare to create innovative, patient-centric solutions.

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