Experio Lab is a Swedish organisation that works with designers, patients, their families and healthcare professionals to design solutions to common healthcare issues. The solutions come in the shape of sensible projects that, for example, have helped reduce the risk of infections in hospitals, reassure children visiting the dentist, or put healthcare staff in the shoes of the patients they assist.
Healthcare in Sweden is decentralised and has been so since the 1970s. The Local Government Act of 1991 created a legal framework for the decentralisation of responsibilities, including those regarding healthcare.
County Councils have a high degree of freedom when developing and implementing healthcare projects. They have to adhere to national guidelines and submit to compulsory open comparisons, but beyond that they have the final say in how healthcare projects are carried out (read more about the decentralisation of Swedish healthcare here).
This led the County Council of Värmland, in western Sweden, to develop Experio Lab, a centre to collect ideas from healthcare professionals and users, develop them using project design protocols used in the private sector, and implement them if they are viable.
Description of target users and groups
The target audience for the projects developed within Experio Lab is ultimately the patients, who will enjoy an improved and more holistic healthcare system. However, Experio needs to engage healthcare professionals and project designers, as well as patients, for the projects to become implemented solutions.
Description of the way to implement the initiative
Experio Lab encourages healthcare users and professionals to submit ideas for projects to the Lab. The organisation then provides resources to study the projects, and implement them if they are viable.
Each proposal goes through several set stages to ensure the viability and correct implementation of the project.
At the preparation stage Experio staff maintain a dialogue with patients and healthcare staff in order to jointly define the challenges and problems. The aim is to identify the right problems and avoid incorrect assumptions.
During the exploration stage, the project planners focus on people's needs, unknown as well as known. To identify these needs, ethnographic tools such as shadowing and thorough interviews are used. Several tools are often combined to get a better understanding of the needs. This step normally ends with a co-creative workshop to define the problem statement and the design challenge, which provides a direction for the rest of the project.
In order to better understand people's needs, these are then mapped out. This can be done by, for example, visualising the user experience using a so-called customer journey. This makes the background material understandable to patients and staff. This step provides insights into users’ needs and the solutions required to meet these needs. All stakeholders then attend a co-creative workshop to confirm that they all share the same understanding of the challenge.
Using creative methods and co-creative workshops, patients and staff work together in a creative process, brainstorming ideas that may lead to concepts which are used to improve services. At an early stage, prototypes are developed to evolve and improve the service. These prototypes are tested in the actual environment where they will be used. Issues are identified and amended and then the prototype is tested again. The goal is to have concrete, radical and well-founded improvements ready for implementation.
Only after the prior stages are complete is the new solution implemented. The experience and functionality is then evaluated from a user perspective as well as in relation to previously defined criteria such as quality and economics.
The main hub is the Experio website. Here users can find out what kinds of projects are in development, and get in touch with the Lab to propose new project or join existing teams.
Most of the innovation happens at the project level. Each project requires its own set of tools during development, and generates its own solutions when implemented. For example, the First Line project implements digital care services, along with more traditional services, for young people with mental illnesses. The aim is to take advantage of children's fondness for digital interaction to make them co-participants in their own treatment.
The Patient Journey project required a more analogue approach. To give healthcare staff and caregivers a perspective of how they could improve the service for their patients, they were made to feel like patients: with glasses that impaired their vision and drops in their ears that impeded clear hearing.
Main results, benefits and impacts
At the moment of writing, about 100 proposals have been considered for development, and 10 have been already been implemented. Amongst the latter are the already-mentioned First Line, which involves children suffering from mental illness in their own treatment, and Patient Journey, which helps healthcare staff identify problems in the services they offer by making them take on the role of patients.
Other examples of successful project are:
- Care Center 2.0 placed a designer in a health centre in Karlstad for a year so that she could use input from patients and staff on the ground to improve the service in that specific health centre. The designer had an open door policy, so any patient or staff member could meet them and propose improvements. The intention was to replicate some of these improvements at similar health centres across the region.
- The Individual Invitation project was developed after observing that children are apprehensive when visiting the dentist. Research into the problem showed that children feel disempowered and out of control. The solution consists in involving the children instead of directing all communications to their parents. Children now receive details of their appointments directly, with clear advice on how to reach the surgery and photos of the dentist that will attend them.
Experio Lab has received national and international attention for its innovative methods and has been nominated for the Guldlänken (Golden Link) prize, which rewards innovative patient-focused ideas within the healthcare sector.
Return on investment
Track record of sharing
Experio Lab started out as a service in the County Council of Värmland. However, its popularity has extended to other parts of Sweden. It is one of the success stories of the Change Radically project run by the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions. Municipalities across the country have applied the methodologies formalised by Experio Lab to test new approaches to old problems, ranging from healthcare to welfare services.
Experio Lab is itself the result of shared knowledge. Similar projects had already been set up in hospitals in the United Kingdom (NHS Innovation), Denmark (MindLab), and the United States at the Mayo Clinic and Kaiser Permanente. Värmland County Council has also fostered a partnership with the Swedish National Testing and Research Institute and the Service Research Center at Karlstad University.
Thanks to the fact that other institutions in other countries had already experimented with similar projects, Experio Lab was able to avoid many pitfalls in its approach to planning and implementing user-centric healthcare solutions.
Experio Lab’s trial-and-error approach to healthcare improvements is more costly in the short term, and slower than top-down methods. However, it results in better designs and is more cost-effective in the medium and long term. Working the need to redesign, tweak and adjust solutions over several iterations (six cycles were used on the Care Centre 2.0 project, for example) into the development cycles has made the solutions more efficient and more patient-friendly, thus reducing resistance to their use.
But probably the most important lesson is that it is not sufficient to rely solely on healthcare professionals when designing holistic healthcare solutions. Taking in the patients' point of view implies that patients are seen as co-creators of the care processes, not just passive receivers. New approaches to understanding patients within the healthcare sector are necessary to create solutions that reduce costs, while achieving efficiency, engagement, and better overall value.Scope: Regional (sub-national)