New York, NY— For the victims of generational healthcare inequalities, Gotham’s next great hero may not wear a cape, but still has some nifty tricks in her utility belt. Deborah Brown, the Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer for Health in the New York City office of the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, is convinced that some integral parts of the system are broken, and traditional approaches have left the most vulnerable citizens of her city under-served. Rather than resort to vigilante justice, Brown is instead following the lead of countless other innovators from Amazon to Zappos and leveraging the human-centered design thinking pioneered by the tech industry.
For their first project, her team is focused squarely on pregnant women and families with children under 2. Last month at Mad*Pow's Health Experience Design (HXD) Conference, Brown shared both the insights and impetus driving her new approach: “We have...black and brown babies dying at a faster rate or a quicker rate than white babies…Black women are more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes…This is nothing new. At the same time, the rates [of infant mortality] are largely going down. But that inequity still remains and it is inter-generational…If there was a solution [within] the current paradigm…we would have found it or frankly someone would have found it before us…We aren’t asking the right questions so we aren’t getting the right answers.”
Her team is looking to design thinking to better understand the needs and challenges of these mothers and their children. From there, the team will explore how the system and its tools can flex to better surround and support real-world users. “Being true to design principles, we don’t know what it is going to look like,” claimed Brown. “But we want systems that are better integrated. The systems historically haven’t been built in a coordinated fashion. We want systems integrated around the end user — around that mother, around that family. We want, in some ways, [to force] the portfolio to work together and all those other agencies to work together, and what we would like to do is build a legacy so that when our time is over … we have left rail tracks for the people who come after us.”
Why This Matters—
While Brown and her team stand to become heroes to countless in NYC, they’re not the first healthcare leaders to have looked to the power of design thinking for new solutions to stubborn challenges:
- Clinicians at Johns Hopkins used the methodology to overcome a deadly spin on unconscious gender biases
- The Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University launched JeffDESIGN—the first design thinking program within a med school
- Kaiser Permanente has been using design thinking to solve healthcare challenges for a decade and a half, resulting in countless innovations that include its recent announcement to invest in real estate in the interest of undermining social determinants of health
Our team has had the pleasure of seeing the impact of design thinking in healthcare firsthand by leading dozens of sideways-thinking workshops each year. Bravo Deborah Brown—you’re in good company.