We Are All Designers

At this year’s annual ASHRM conference, members of The Risk Authority Stanford team spoke eloquently on generating value in healthcare, on eliminating risk and improving patient safety, and on using design thinking as a method to pursue these goals.

Designing is an act that most everyone partakes in on a daily basis. Anytime we work to solve a problem, improve systems, or enhance processes, we are essentially designing. We are all designers, but we don’t always do it mindfully. Design thinking offers a method to shape the way we think about design.

Design thinking is an eminently useful tool that can be used to ideate, prototype, and test innovative, human-centered solutions. It’s a form of creative action that focuses on developing deep empathy with the end user to come up with better, or more suitable ideas that are uniquely fitted to their situations and cultures. This means that design thinking, while used to varying degrees in a myriad of industries, is an exceptional tool to develop and implement never-before thought of solutions in health care risk management. It allows risk managers to connect to and understand the needs of their organizations in a whole new way.


Key Ingredients

In healthcare, we often find systems that haven’t been designed specifically with the needs of the end users in mind. Rather, systems have emerged from a confluence of what has been imposed or what has seemed possible due to resource or space limitations without any real intention of design.

As outlined by Guido Kovalskys from Stanford’s d.school, the iterative design thinking process of empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test, allows us to focus not on how systems are, but how they should be.

Design Thinking Stanford


Empathy: We go out into the world, we talk to people, we listen, we learn. We develop deep understanding and empathy through rich storytelling and human interaction.

Define: We talk some more, we research, we ask questions. We search far and wide for inspiration, then focus on a possible problem to tackle.

Ideate: We think, we brainstorm, we dream, we build on each other’s ideas. We hold nothing back and ban caution in favor of wild creativity. There is no bad idea, nothing is off the table.

Prototype: We make, we form, we bring our ideas to life. We create prototypes to learn from them. We fail fast to succeed sooner.

Test: We go back out into the world with our prototypes. We give them to the end user, we watch, we ask, we interact. How does the idea work well? How does it fail? What does the end user think?

Cycle: We do it again, and again.


Think of the Possibilities

Design thinking is particularly helpful when there isn’t a clear or linear understanding of the problem, let alone a right answer. It can get beyond the surface of issues to examine unconscious motivations and underlying issues, helping institutions solve problems that may not have clear causes or existing data. Rather than a top down approach where a solution is offered, deployed, and rolled out, in design thinking the solution is ultimately generated with the end user, for the end user.

For example, through this process healthcare risk managers and others in the field can think about how to reconfigure a space so that it really helps and supports the activities that need to go on in the room, so that they can take preventative steps to mitigate risk and improve systems. Industrial designer Doug Dietz wanted to understand why most children were being sedated before they were sent to the scanner he had designed. What he found from talking with the techs in the room was that the children were so terrified of the machine that sedation was essential. Design thinking tools helped Dietz create a space where the scanning machine resembles a pirate ship and the room around it a beach full of friendly creatures. The MRI experience of children shifted to a playful adventure rather than a terrifying ordeal to overcome.

This is only one example of how design thinking can improve an experience in healthcare. Thinking in this way can allow healthcare risk managers to improve patient safety and engagement by redesigning processes mindfully and collaboratively. It can help us to create organizational value by developing and implementing programs that are preventative and predicative rather than simply responsive. It can help us truly put the needs of our patients and clinicians at the forefront of our vision and our efforts.

So as we move forward, embracing the idea that we are all designers, we must be empathetic, and we must let ourselves create. We must let ourselves think of the possibilities for transformation, because once we do, we’ll discover that they are endless.


By: Jeff Driver, CEO

Jeff Driver, Esq.

Jeff Driver, Esq.

Jeff has more than 25 years of experience as a risk management professional and has managed the enterprise risk in community, tertiary, and academic medical centers. A frequent speaker and author on risk management issues, Jeff has expertise in incorporating and managing subsidiary insurance companies, assuring organization corporate compliance, claims and litigation management, patient safety and loss control, employment practices consulting, and the development, reorganization, and implementation of alternate risk financing programs.


Jeff currently serves as the chief executive officer of The Risk Authority Stanford, and as the chief risk officer of Stanford Health Care and Stanford Children’s Health. Before joining Stanford, he was chief risk officer and director of regulatory advocacy at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.



By: Simon Mawer, AVP

Simon Mawer, LLB

Simon Mawer, LLB

With a unique background in litigation, design thinking and decision science, Simon is a strategic planning and execution expert. His ability to conceptualize, to drill down and to provide empathetic insights are what allow him to innovate in the healthcare space. He serves as the design lead for the newly established Innovence™ Lab, where he leads interdisciplinary frontline teams from across the Stanford ecosystem to work on patient safety challenges with the tools of human-centered design.


Simon Mawer serves as Assistant Vice President of Risk Management for the Stanford University Medical Network Risk Authority, LLC (TRA Stanford), as well as Program Manager of Risk Management Loss Controls and Education for Stanford Health Care and Stanford Children’s Health.