Experiences and reflection on the role of information design in hospitals (one year in)
August 2020 - September 2021
information . data viz . reflective
Full development: data viz elaboration, field experimentation, first evaluations
Exel, RawGraph, Ai, Gephy, Keynote
Should information designers work in hospital settings? Under which circumstances introducing this kind of profession is valuable for both the designer and the facility? In which ways and in collaboration with whom an information designer could be introduced in such a setting?
In the past year, I’ve been working as an information/communication designer in a medium-small hospital in Lombardy, as part of the QFA and URP Office (Quality-Formation-Accreditation / Public Relations Office). During this time, I have dealt with various internal projects in close collaboration with Health Management, Risk Management and Operating Units. As imaginable, many of these projects emerged from the extraordinary situations brought by the pandemic emergency. Since I've been the first designer introduced in the facility, my role and areas of action were ill-defined, so I've tried to approach my work as a way to answer the opening questions.
In my day-to-day work as an information designer, I have realised schematizations of many protocols and procedures, cured internal reports, and used some visualisations as discussion tools during meetings. Also, I happened to collaborate with an external provider to structure a new documentation system and contribute to the process of customization and adoption of the Electronic Health Record. A couple of examples:
⭐️ The first flowchart represents the procedure adopted by the hospital regarding the management of Covid-19 tampons for the monitoring of healthcare workers. The scheme was used as a tool to reason about the continuously changing regional indications on the subject, facilitate the relative discussion in the various working groups and, above all, spread the so codified path among the operators.
⭐️ The second chart was prepared to facilitate a meeting requested by the Health Management regarding some patients with a shared clinical history. In a few days, a colleague and I built a dataset with the information of interest of each patient under examination, and I proposed those data in a Gantt chart with hourly sensitivity. The visualization helped re-enact and compare the patients' movements in the hospital, informing the development of new protocols. Also, the department managers appreciated it as a tool for discussing complex clinical cases.
To address the questions I've been asking and reflect on my role in such an environment, I've tried to represent the work that I've done in relation to the other figures that operate inside the hospital. Both hospital's roles and project interventions have been placed according to "degree of operability" - "focus of the activity" axes. Furthermore, the interventions are classified according to their frequency. This visualization, which follows some visual experiments on organizational diagrams, helped me to formulate some - personal and for sure partial - observations.
📎 I am convinced that information designers may bring a valuable apport in hospital settings, such as easing the diffusion of complex contents and procedures among a diversity of users and enabling discussion about data sets and processes in various monitoring and decision-making settings. In particular, I highly value the use of data visualization as a co-design tool, thanks to its nature, both analytical and communicational.
📎 For this reason, I think that the information designer should work in a close relationship, at least with the services meant to monitor and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the facility's activities: Risk Management, Quality service, Committees, etc. Furthermore, as its activity could also focus on the communication towards external users (such as patients) and requires access to different sets of hospital's data, I think it's also essential to set a collaboration with IT services and the eventual communication department.
📎 But is there actually space for an information designer in a hospital? I believe that the answer depends strongly on the facility's vision regarding data and its use, on the degree of digitalization reached (or soon-to-be-reached) and probably also by the organization's dimension. For sure, a deep knowledge of the hospital's dynamics and of the people that inhabit it is essential, but maybe this could be achieved with different types of working agreements.
I want to clarify that designers working in hospital settings are not a new concept, even though it's still not a widespread practice. Many authors discussed the value of this profession in healthcare, especially in relation to the wicked problems which affect the system and that the pandemic has dramatically spotlighted. Even in Lombardy, great designers are currently working in this direction. Furthermore, many questions remain open to me even regarding my specific design field: some of the activities of an information designer are or should be partially absorbed by other figures already working in the hospitals? How could information designers interact with the new experts and tools entering the field (Data Analysts, Ai...)? Should some activities be performed not at the hospital level but rather at a Region/National one?
For these reasons, I look forward to the development of the critical conversation about designers in healthcare. Besides, recent discussions with colleagues and friends brought to my attention the often poor understanding from hospitals about what designers - with their different areas of expertise - could do and from fellow designers about how hospitals work "behind the scenes". 🛠 Therefore, I am currently developing a simple tool with the hope to ease a little mutual understanding.