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Seoul Medical Center :Finding a new way of public healthcare in service design
  • By Song Soo-youn
  • Published 2017.02.22 15:22
  • Updated 2017.04.13 11:59
  • comments 0

Nearly two months have passed since the chaotic 2016 passed and a hopeful 2017 arrived. Tough situations facing Korea, domestic or foreign, have changed little, however. Many businesses are emphasizing innovation, saying, “We can’t survive without changes.” The medical industry is no exception. The Korea Biomedical Review is launching a series of articles on institutions and businesses seeking innovation through new attempts, to share their know-how with our readers. – Ed.

Staff members of Human Understanding Design Center (HUDC) hold cardboards displaying their slogan during an event at the Seoul Medical Center recently. (SMC photo)

Visitors to the Seoul Medical Center (SMC) run into a rather strange space at a corner of the second floor, in which the departments of obstetrics, dermatology, plastic surgery and psychiatry are situated.

Called the “Human Understanding Design Center” (HUDC), this space marked the first example of grafting the concept of service design to public health care. Orange-colored walls attract people’s attention but not too much _ just like the new-born center’s hard but low-key efforts to introduce the new idea to Korea’s medical industry.

Turning crisis into opportunity

Service design is the activity of planning and organizing people, infrastructure, communication and material components of a service to improve its quality and the interaction between the service provider and its customers.

HUDC fell into a crisis even before its official opening two years ago. The outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in the summer of 2015 threw the whole nation into a chaos forcing government officials, central and local, and all hospitals to focus on preventing its spread. SMC also had to put off the center’s opening ceremony from June to September.

An employee shows the “communication guide to cope with infectious diseases” developed by HUDC.

But the crisis became an opportunity. Instead of waiting for the epidemic to end, some of its principal members found what to do amid the turmoil _ working out manuals to deal with MERS. There was a booklet distributed by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention but it was insufficient for practical use. So SMC became the first institution to have its manual, the joint product of four members _ dermatologist Kim Hyun-jung, who also leads the HUDC, Paeng Han-sol, a service designer, Park Sung-won, a nurse and strategist, and Ku Seul-ji, a design planner.

HUDC started by minimizing collisions between the hospital and visitors, as officials blocked more than half of the entrances, checking the temperature for visitors, and asking about their physical conditions, steps needed to prevent the spread of the disease. As the medical staff and patients faced the situation for the first time, they had difficulties adjusting to it. SMC and HUDC organized a rapid response team and began to make their manual from the viewpoint of service design. It also reflected trials and errors experienced amid the chaotic circumstances.

“We first sorted out chaotic situations, such as why some patients yell in hospitals, why they run away without checking temperatures and how we should control admissions, and turned them into manuals,” said Kim, the HUDC head. “For example, we had to attach different posters according to the phase of MERS spread. We racked our brains how to communicate with patients.”

They immediately applied the new manual to medical fields and modified it if there were problems. The center called the entire processes “Lollipop processes.” After the MERS turmoil was over, the manual was reborn as the “communication manual to cope with epidemic crises.” HUDC rearranged the manual to phased responses on a large paper and put it in an orange box. HUDC’s goal and its first official project were: make a handbook instantly available, not for keeping in a closet.

“We have yet to complete the manual but have conducted a mock training session based on it and are planning to make it available on-line,” Kim said. “First of all, we distributed it to 13 medical institutions under the Seoul Metropolitan Government and sought feedbacks from them. We also are upgrading its contents through continuous discussion with the infection disease department.”

These are some of the posters that call for improving the culture related to hospital visits. (SMC photo)

Witty poster against get-well visits

The manual was just beginning. SMC has carried out projects to protect the hospital from infection, establishing admission system to hospital rooms and setting up rooms for visitors. The whole process has, of course, a relationship with service design. Now only people with RFID tag can enter hospitals, and officials advise visitors to meet patients in a separate space.

It also took care how best to deliver the hospital’s decision to restrict visits to hospital wards for reason of infection prevention, to patients, their guardians, and get-well visitors.

Staffs listened to patients’ ideas and reflected them on posters in witty phrases and pictures. For example, the posters described visitors to hospital rooms shared by multiple patients noisily bragging about personal experiences, or patients watching cakes brought by guests. HUDC put these contents in an orange color guidebook, titled “SMC 2.0 _ a service design guide on a public hospital safe from infection.”

“Making posters may appear to be a minor idea, but they include user interviews,” service designer Paeng said. “We also tried to make the guidebook on access control and visitors’ room, in ways to make all people want to have and read it. We unveiled our plans to separate patients, caregivers, and visitors, and manage them, in pictures, making people feel tempted to read it.”

All this might explain why the guidebooks SMC displayed at its booth in “K-Hospital Fair 2016” was so popular among visitors that some of them disappeared after the exhibition, HUDC officials said.

MAKE-A-THON, funerals and service design

The design center has moved beyond SMC. It hosted an event not just for patients but the general public as well last May. Called the “MAKE-A-THON for Healthcare Innovation,” it sought citizens’ ideas on health care and SMC’s operation, study them for a period and turn them into concrete plans for improvement.

People discuss ways to create a new funeral culture during a workshop organized by Seoul Medical Center last September.(SMC photo)

The program drew 300 applicants and selected 70 of them as participants. The center organized an advisory group consisted of doctors from related departments, asking them to offer their opinions about ideas proposed by members.

It selected five ideas: a plan to help patients walk for themselves and exercise steadily; VR contents to treat children and doll-type IV injectors; curtains to separate patients in a room with more than one bed; an automatic door that opens only to visitors who wash their hands; and a “smart” pillow to prevent snoring and help sound sleep.

“The biggest concern of people who are interested in digital healthcare and develop related technology is difficulty meeting doctors,” Kim said. “I could receive counsels from my colleagues as I was conducting a clinical test as a dermatologist.” Most of the ideas from MAKE-A-THON were more helpful for and applicable to public healthcare institutions than large private hospitals, she added.

Another area of interest for HUDC is the nation’s funeral culture. Hospitals have long considered funerals as a side business that can generate profits in a country where the government sets the healthcare cost at a low level. The center does not focus on profits but culture. At stake is how to create a funeral culture, in which visitors can “genuinely” honor the memory of the deceased.

“In hospitals, people only talk about life, avoiding the word death. Hospitals hold more than 80 percent of funeral services amid lots of formalities and vanity, however,” Paeng said. “That forced us to think about how to improve funeral culture by applying service design to it. Our hospital can tackle the task because it is a public medical institution. ”

There were trials and errors of course. “Just remodeling a funeral hall can’t solve this problem,” Paeng said. “Nor should we hurry to produce results. It is necessary to educate people and change their way of thinking. We will create a program allowing people to design their funeral services.”

SMC is not exactly the first hospital to seek innovation through service design. Large college-affiliated hospitals, including Samsung Medical Center, Severance Hospital, and ASAN Medical Center, have made similar attempts. As a latecomer, SMC has done much more than their larger counterparts in just a year, though. Especially its attempt to induce changes in public medical institutions through service design is refreshing enough.

Changes have already been under way. SMC has turned its service design manual, also applied to Samsung Medical Center and Boramae Hospital, into a guidebook and distributed it to public medical institutions under the Seoul Metropolitan Government. The Seoul Metropolitan Dongbu Hospital has remodeled its emergency room based on this guide.

Stressing that SMC is not a welfare provider spending taxpayers’ money but a medical institution, Kim said, “Our ultimate objective is to create values that public healthcare organizations can do and offer universalized medical services.”

“So far we have focused on making more people know about HUDC. This year, we will push ahead with the existing projects that may not be eye-catching but are important enough,” she added.


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