HBI Deals+Insights / Digital and AI

How healthcare companies are driving innovation with ‘Design Thinking’

Updating service offerings and truly understanding the needs of patients and stakeholders remains an uphill battle across an ever-more-rapidly evolving healthcare sector. For providers and medtech companies alike, an innovative approach called “Design Thinking” may provide a way forward.

HBI spoke to Craig Wills, Managing Director of Hi Mum! Said Dad, and Katya Zubareva, a Partner at L.E.K. Consulting, about how they utilise Design Thinking to help healthcare companies develop patient-centred solutions.

Design Thinking is a product design and service development methodology utilised by L.E.K. Consulting and Hi Mum! Said Dad to help healthcare companies immerse themselves in the experiences of end-users, so that they may co-create new solutions to transform patient journeys and operational workflows.

At the heart of Design Thinking lies a structured, yet flexible, process that encourages open collaboration and empowers participants to think beyond conventional boundaries.

“Design Thinking is a ‘divergent and convergent’ methodology to understand the audience – not just their demographics, but their needs, perceptions, and attitudes. This is often done through interviews, surveys, and observation,” Craig Wills summarises.


What is Design Thinking?

Design thinking is a ‘human-centred’ approach pioneered by the Design Council in 2004, intended to bring together diverse perspectives and approaches to discover creative solutions to complex and often muddied problems. The framework has proven effective across disciplines, sectors, and organisation types.

The Design Thinking process is built on the Double Diamond model, illustrated below:

The Design Thinking Double Diamond



Divergent thinking represents the information-gathering phase, where a broad set of insights, perspectives, and hypotheses are discussed, discovered and documented through engaging stakeholders and users.

Convergent thinking represents the process by which these ideas and hypotheses are validated, where the better ideas win out and accord can be reached.

The Double Diamond represents the ‘divergent/convergent’ model in both its problem-defining phases and its solution-building phases.

The four phases

The Design Thinking process is divided into four phases across the Double Diamond:

Discover: within this first phase, the divergent period can be seen as a journey of discovery, to explore the problem from the maximum number of perspectives.

Define: the following convergent period is a distillation and refinement process. The intended outcome is to reach a clear understanding of the key problem, or problem set, that the organisation needs to address with a solution.

Develop: entering the second stage of the two diamonds, the Develop phase initiates another divergent period, where different approaches to the solution are sought and collated. Where the Discover phase represents an inclusive broadening of perspectives, the Develop period encourages an inclusive and integrative co-designing process.

Deliver: The process completes during the Deliver phase, where solutions are tested, validated or discarded, and undergo iterative development. Iterative, continuous improvement is key to the Design Thinking framework.

Principles of Design Thinking

Design Thinking applies a series of principles to the design process, including:

‘Put People First’: Design Thinking is a ‘human-centred’ approach, with the greatest focus on the end user and their needs, goals, and challenges.

‘Solving the right problem’: The Discover phase of the Design Thinking process is intended to break down assumptions, purge legacy issues that may have previously governed the design and planning process, and bring focus and emphasis on the experience of users and a diversity of team members.

Create space for a range of perspectives: A diversity of opinions and voices is an essential part of the Design Thinking process.

Focus on the strengths of contributors and stakeholders: Not all parties to a process will be good at the same things, or have access to the same background information. Design Thinking provides great weight to identifying the strengths of stakeholder parties and letting them feed in where they can make the most impact.

Develop, iterate, and refine: Design Thinking’s convergence processes require the testing and iterative improvement of the product and solution and are antithetical to any ‘one-and-done’ solution set.

The overarching purpose is to tap into user and stakeholder communities to discover the core needs and motives of the service user and to iteratively hone-in on a solution.


Care Fertility — a case study

This drive to understand service users laid the foundation for L.E.K. Consulting and Hi Mum! Said Dad’s work with Care Fertility, a network of fertility clinics across the UK.

The team facilitated a series of workshops with embryologists from Care Fertility’s 14 clinics, aiming to uncover operational pain points and co-create solutions tailored to their unique challenges.

“We wanted to understand who the people were, their roles, what motivated them, and where their frustrations lay,” Wills recalls. “We mapped out their day-to-day activities and identified a significant issue: the arduous and time-consuming process of planning and scheduling daily tasks.”

This deep dive into the embryologists’ experiences revealed a crucial bottleneck — the need to meticulously plan and adjust schedules on paper, hour by hour, to accommodate the time-sensitive nature of their work. A single deviation, such as an unexpected increase in the number of eggs produced, could derail the entire day’s schedule and create inefficiencies.

“We could see this issue in the process just by mapping it out and sitting down with the embryologists to understand what the day looks like,” Wills reflects. “It was a dynamic process being managed in a very static way, causing scheduling conflicts and potentially impacting the team.”

With the problem clearly defined, the team progressed to the next stage of the Design Thinking process: ideation and solution development. This phase is characterised by a deliberate divergence, where participants are encouraged to think expansively and propose even the most unconventional or ambitious ideas.

“We do a little bit of convergence in the workshop where we get people to vote on what works, rationalise why it would be effective, and how it could work or fail in operation,” Wills describes. “But you go as wide as you can initially. You don’t let realism or practicality get in the way. Even the wildest ideas that could never be done will have a grain of truth or insight that you can benefit from.”

This divergent thinking phase was followed by a convergence process, where the team whittled down the ideas, visualised potential solutions, and created clickable prototypes for user testing and iteration. “We get the end-users to feed into the idea, ask if they would use it, how it would positively impact their workflow, and gather suggestions for improvements,” Wills explains.

“You end up with the converged solution with user validation, refinement, and a concept that’s practical, considered, and thinks about the business and the user,” Wills affirms.

Katya Zubareva, a partner at L.E.K. Consulting, underscores the value of this collaborative approach, particularly in the healthcare sector. “It’s broader than what I would have said going in, which was the point,” she reflects. “When you involve enough people who live and breathe something daily, you end up with a better solution.”

This sentiment is echoed by Wills, who highlights the importance of tapping into the expertise of industry insiders. “There is a knowledge gap that any consultancy will have versus the people working in those industries day in, day out,” he acknowledges. “By bringing in subject matter experts and stakeholders, we can stand on their shoulders and enable their insights.”

The Care Fertility case study, which Wills and Zubareva will be presenting the results of at HBI 2024, is indicative of the power of Design Thinking in action. Its applications, however, extend far beyond the fertility sector.

“I think it works across organisations,” Wills asserts. “I haven’t come across a sector or an organisation where there isn’t a cause — primarily it’s about being human-centred.”

Zubareva cites examples from other industries, such as banking, where Design Thinking principles were used by L.E.K. Consulting’s partners to develop user-friendly apps, such as for a high street bank. “They worked with customers to design the features and make sure everything fit their needs,” she explains. 

As the healthcare industry grapples with complex, ongoing challenges and evolving patient needs, the Design Thinking methodology has the potential to equip providers, consolidators, and developers of technology services with a repeatable and embeddable internal framework for innovation.

The method’s focus on centring patients and end users, while listening to and empowering practitioners and support staff, offers a compelling approach for providers managing change, and equally a way for newer medical companies to generate early momentum and find product-market fit.

This does not mean that it provides an opportunity or an excuse to cut corners, as Wills is keen to emphasise:

“It’s not about taking the shortcut from ‘I’ve got an idea’ to ‘I’ve built it’. I think that’s a crazy, high-risk thing to do when you could have said, ‘I’ve got an idea now and I’m going to go deeper to make sure that I’m right’.

“It is about uncovering the human factors for your target audience, whether that’s patients, practitioners, or operational staff,” Wills concludes. “You really get under the skin of the end-users’ day-to-day experiences, so you can think about the most appropriate way to solve their problems or pursue opportunities.”


Craig Wills and Katya Zubareva will be presenting the full Care Fertility case study, including the results and impact of their work, with fellow partners Klaus Boehncke and Jacqueline Thompson at HBI 2024.

The interactive breakfast workshop, “Design thinking – how to make an impact in innovation, transformation and patient experience” will take place on Tuesday June 11, 2024 at 7.45am. At time of publication a small number of tickets are available, but going quickly.

Breakfast Briefing: Design Thinking

We would welcome your thoughts on this story. Email your views to Chris O'Donnell or call 0207 183 3779.