Distinction in Design & Innovation in Health Care
Led by the Design Institute for Health, the distinction option in design and innovation in health care allows students to develop skills in visual design, communications, interaction design, business and other areas, leveraging those skills within a team to aid community-sponsored health projects.
DAINON’S GOAL THIS YEAR
“I want to learn how to practice medicine in a system of health care that offers better choices for patients and providers, but is sustainable long-term from a business perspective.”
Dainon Miles is ready to change the system. After working as a medical assistant in a pain clinic and seeing the routine frustrations of patients and providers alike when there seemed to be few options to alleviate suffering, he knew there had to be other ways to help patients achieve their health goals.
Miles is applying his passion for solving everyday problems to a third-year distinction in design and innovation in health care with a focus on business in medicine. As part of the design option, he will complete an independent project in partnership with a community organization.
“We’re still making final plans for which community partners we’re working with,” he says. “But I’m passionate about helping people take charge of their own health, so I’m hoping to do something that involves fitness or wellness here in Austin.”
In the meantime, he’s soaking up his design and business classes. Much of Miles’ business coursework so far involves analyzing cases studies of entrepreneurs’ successes and failures. This, he says, has made for a fundamental change in his thought process.
“In order to open a new kind of clinical practice or run a business that approaches health care in a new way, it’s really helpful to understand what has worked in the past and why,” Miles says. “I’m really enjoying my classes so far and looking forward to building up a framework for understanding health and business on a systems level this year.”
The design option is led by the Design Institute for Health, a joint institute of Dell Medical School and the College of Fine Arts.
“Health care is the last frontier for design,” says Lucas Artusi, systems designer at the Design Institute. “Equipping our medical students with the skills of a designer — for instance, how to rapidly build, test and iterate solutions to the challenges they identify — will allow them to become the change agents that drive our health care system to be more value-based and person-centered.”
A lot has changed since Dainon Miles last visited the YMCA for summer camp. The recreation center he remembers from childhood has expanded to offer holistic services — addressing mental health, nutrition, fitness needs and more — in an effort to more comprehensively support surrounding communities.
And with Miles’ interest in helping people achieve health through fitness and wellness, the Y made a perfect partner for his Design and Innovation in Health project this spring. His team is building a support system for primary care doctors in Austin and Travis County to refer patients to local services at the YMCA to help them better meet their health goals outside the clinic. The system Miles’ group designs will incorporate a way for physicians to monitor patients’ progress over time.
“Rather than relying on anecdotes and gut hunches, through this partnership with Dell Med, we hope to establish objective data that prove the effectiveness of an integrated, holistic approach so that future generations of health care professionals recognize the human dimension of care because they’ve already practiced it in the community,” says James Finck, CEO of the YMCA of Austin.
Step one? Define the problem. Miles and his teammates are testing everything from online sign-up forms to fitness classes at YMCA locations around town, evaluating each use case with a critical eye to determine what needs and roadblocks might exist for better facilitating services.
“We know what we want to achieve, but part of the design process is gathering the data to show what might hinder or help that,” Miles says. “We have what we think are some great ideas, but to make them more than just ideas, we need to make sure they will actually be useful for the people in the community the Y is looking to serve.”
What does “design” mean? As a concept, it goes beyond graphics or layouts to the heart of how things work. But what does that look like?
For Dainon Miles and his team this year, “design” has meant more than 70 interviews with YMCA customers, community physicians and patients. It’s involved prototyping programs to help patients receive services at the Y and generating themes and observation-based insights to improve those programs.
Among them: Patients are better able to meet their health goals when they can articulate those goals and have help navigating what can feel like an overwhelming array of options.
Miles and his team are devising solutions. One is a reference sheet that might be given to Y members upon check-in that helps them clarify their goals and points to relevant services available at the location. Another offers members an itinerary for their first visit — planned in consideration of their specific health needs and interests — so they can sample what the Y has to offer.
The team has prototyped some of these already and spent days with individual patients to get feedback on how the concierge experience can help illuminate a path forward for effectively engaging with the Y’s services.
“When we were able to show people the services or classes that would be best suited for their goals and interests, the feedback that we got is that they would absolutely come back to the Y to do those things,” Miles says. “What this process really does is just provide a warm handoff from the doctor’s office to the Y, as opposed to offering blanket advice to ‘exercise more’ — which can be overwhelming when you don’t know where to start.”
Following presentations of the team’s insights to the YMCA board, Miles and his team will continue to work on honing a solution that is sustainable with the resources the Y has available. And this spring, they’ve been invited to Washington, D.C., to whiteboard similar solutions with YMCA teams from across the country — proving the larger impact that local solutions can have.
Dainon Miles and his team have gone national.
At the end of the spring, they presented a set of insights to the board of the YMCA of Austin, and shed light on how the YMCA could serve the health needs of Austinites in even more impactful ways. The findings from Miles and his teammates were so powerful, YMCA leadership invited the students to attend a meeting in Washington, D.C., with YMCA representatives from across the country to discuss how the organization can roll out healthy living programs.
The challenges to healthy living are unique to each city, and Miles watched — and weighed in — as reps brainstormed the best ways to move forward in Wisconsin, Missouri and Colorado, just to name a few.
The experience, he says, was affirming: “I watched people reach similar conclusions to those we made after the discovery phase of our project,” Miles says. “It was more than a school project — our observations and insights were really heard and valued in coming up with answers to how the Y can help people lead healthier lives.”
Grateful to Ann from @CDCgov for sharing time with #ymca #charity leaders to learn and share best approaches to building healthier communities. Thx again to @carrieymca @YMCA_Milwaukee @boydYguy @ppymca @JamesFinck @AustinYMCA for convening these inspiring #yadvocates! pic.twitter.com/A1t5towOLA— Neal Denton (@NealDenton) May 23, 2019
Going into the fourth year of their medical studies, Miles and his team’s work has mostly concluded with the YMCA of Austin, but the findings will live on: The YMCA is planning to implement a training for new employees — front desk staff in particular — so that they will be better equipped to help people meet their health goals the moment they walk in the door.
“The third year was a good chance to do something that was different, beyond traditional medicine,” Miles says. “I’d never worked with a business and tried to help them solve a problem. So not only was it a chance to learn the design process, but a chance to go implement it pretty much unsupervised. I learned how important it is to listen deeply and determine what the problem actually is, not just try to jump in with a solution based on assumptions.”