Healthcare by design
How a bunch of students are disrupting Auckland Hospital
AUCKLAND CITY HOSPITAL is like a city within a city. Every week, 60,000 people enter (and with any luck leave) this rich and complex environment.
It’s clean, off-white, sterile, efficient – as it should be.
Then unexpectedly in the middle of level five sits a surprising space – exposed pipes, rough whitewashed walls, where the paint peters out half way up, concrete pillars enveloped in tacky carpet.
It’s looks like a services area, or the bit they forgot to finish.
Actually it’s the Design for Health and Wellbeing Lab – a collaboration between AUT University’s design department (hence the trendy, half- completed look) and the Auckland District Health Board.
Here design students of various hues ( graphic, industrial, product, even fashion; post- and undergraduate) sit at tables they probably knocked up themselves. And using anything from post-it notes to top-notch 3D printers, they try to find design solutions to the problems faced by patients and staff in a hospital environment.
For example, how to produce an IV drip pole that is less scary for children. Or make a radiation treatment protection process that’s more practical. Or develop an Emergency Department navigation plan that makes it easier for patients and their families to know what to expect when they turn up at A&E.
Dr Stephen Reay, senior lecturer of industrial design and innovation at AUT University, started thinking about the possibility of linking
The staff who work here have said ‘This is hairy, loose, rough and experimental.’ And I’ve told them: ‘It’s yours. What do you want to do with it? It’s your opportunity. This is a once-in-alifetime.”
Stephen Reay, senior lecturer, industrial design and innovation, AUT University
students with the hospital four to five years ago.
The first step saw design students working on a series of small practical projects for the ADHB. But Reay wanted more – a design lab within the hospital.
He teamed up with Justin Kennedy-Good, the ADHB’s programme director for performance improvement, and together they set up trying to make it work. When they came across an empty space on level five of the hospital, next to the Clinical Education Centre, they quietly moved some students in.
“We said we’d be in there for a couple of weeks and then we just stayed.”
Twelve months later, the DHW Lab – a world first – already has 90 post-it notes on the ideas board waiting for action – and a dozen projects on the go.
While the medical profession is historically rooted in science, complexity and expertise, design is viewed as much more intuitive, creative and haphazard, says Reay. By bringing the two worlds together, with the freedom to experiment and innovate, the DHW Lab gets designers engaging with clinical experts to share and test ideas and develop solutions.
“In the lab, we’re balanced on a knife edge, and from that tension comes innovation,” explains Reay. “We’re learning enormous amounts from the interdisciplinary collaboration we have with the hospital’s performance improvement unit, and from the clinicians, support staff, patients and families.”
The space itself, with its temporary, unfinished, experimental feel, is an important part of the design lab experience, Reay says.
“I like that the emphasis is on the work, not the look. We started with a small budget and we’ve designed it as we’ve gone along, making half of the furniture ourselves. The space itself is changing as we have better ideas – like it’s a prototype for what a design lab in a hospital should be.”
As befits a hub, it’s an ever- changing community. There are design graduates working on a range of projects from pharmacy layout, to the effectiveness of the transition lounge, to the outpatient experience in the Starship Children’s Hospital. There are undergraduates doing work experience, and post-graduate students working on real-life projects. There is work for spacial designers, product designers, even a fashion design student working on a new uniform for the volunteers.
Kennedy- Good says one goal of the lab is to get hospital staff exposed to a creative way of working.
“We want our 8000 employees to be constantly thinking about what they can do differently to improve the experience for patients, and to have permission to try stuff and learn from it – with all the safety and context that’s required,” he says.
Over the past few months, there have been visits from management at companies like Air NZ and BNZ, keen to look at the continuous improvement model, says Kennedy- Good.
“We bring them through the lab and they say, ‘Holy crap, I wish we had that.’ And we did it in a public system – that’s pretty cool.”
LEARNING ON THE JOB
On the other side, it’s also a hands- on student learning environment.
At any given time, a handful of AUT postgraduate students are developing their design projects, alongside graduate designers working on specific projects and mentoring the students.
“I hope that by attracting students with the right mindset and giving them this opportunity to step up, we’ll help them leave us more confident and motivated, and as better designers. It’s a very different sort of education.
The organic nature of the lab’s growth has made it interesting and exciting, Reay says.
“Potentially it was a huge risk, but at the same time it wasn’t, because it’s such valuable learning whatever way you look at it. Everything here is a huge experiment and we’re just working it out.
“The staff who work here have said ‘This is hairy, loose, rough and experimental.’ And I’ve told them: ‘It’s yours. What do you want to do with it? It’s your opportunity. This is a once-in-alifetime.”
The future of the lab is uncertain, Reay says, and that’s how it should be.
“We won’t stay forever, we’ll move somewhere else or hopefully one day there’ll be no need for us because then the hospital will be awesome!”
We bring [management from companies like Air New Zealand and BNZ] through the lab and they say, ‘Holy crap, I wish we had cool.” that.’ And we did it in a public system – that's pretty
Justin Kennedy-Good, ADHB programme director for performance improvement
Design for Health and Wellbeing Lab: Stephen Reay (black shirt, shaved head) and Justin KennedyGood (blue shirt, bearded) at the official DHW Lab opening