Design Considerations for Patient Experience — an Adaption of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

What do patients really want? The easy answer, of course, is that they want to get better. However, it is obvious that simply great medical results cannot satisfy them. 

How do we deliver value to the patients through healthcare-related services? What are the other things the healthcare industry must address besides the medical aspects? Here I’d like to use Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a framework to help healthcare service remain human-centered by focusing on the basic needs. I hope to use this different approach to evaluate patient experience from a different perspective and provide guidance for improvement from the roots, instead of being swept away by the many chaoses that happen in practice. 

Image Credit: Simple Psychology

  • Physiological Needs

While healthcare professionals may not influence the accuracy of diagnosis or effectiveness of treatment, there are many other items regarding the physiological aspect that they can take care of. Patients may face difficulties in mobility or special dietary needs or are simply more sensitive to temperature and humidity. 

Opportunities:  Healthcare professionals should take extra effort to recognize and meet those needs, for example ensuring adequate and convenient water fountains, adaptable air conditioning, and preparing small biscuits for patients with hypoglycemia. 

  • Safety Needs

Patients are constantly navigating in a field of uncertainty. However, it is important for them to feel in control of their lives. A significant portion of their fear and resistance comes from the perplexity of the consequences of their choices. 

Opportunities:  While the medical conditions may be complex and success cannot be guaranteed, it would be helpful for the hospital to not only inform the patient about the medical and financial possibilities, but also the process, including what examinations, operations and pain to expect, what side effects to look out for. 

  • Belonging and love needs

Patients need to maintain their social connections and social life while receiving treatment. Being an inpatient not only means a restriction on daily activities but could also mean potential cut-off on social activities since their mobility and time may be restricted. 

Opportunities:  Having reasonable and flexible visitor regulations can help patients keep in touch with their family and friends, especially elder patients, and receive the emotional support that is vital for their recovery. Establishing a community to enable conversation and encouragement between peer patients can also help install a sense of belonging. 

  • Esteem Needs

It is quite common for patients to feel unconfident and even weak, as they suddenly fall into a role of being dependent on others, not to mention the feeling of lack of control. They could be more sensitive and fragile in this period, and providing respect in various ways can improve their confidence and self-esteem. 

Opportunities:  Make sure that employees are fully aware of any conditions the patients might have, as neglecting to provide necessary assistance may lead to the patient feeling ignored or unvalued. Provide patients with options and encourage them to make their own decisions, for example, meal plans, or decorations. 

  • Self-actualization

Patients do not hold a full-time job as a patient, they often have many other things to do. It would be best for the hospital to be able to support the other activities patients would like to do. 

Opportunities:  For general patients, hospitals could provide flexible schedules or appointments so patients have to miss minimum work to be able to see their doctors. The site could have a stable phone signal and Internet, and phone booths for patients to take calls. It would also be great if the patients can easily find a quiet space with tables should a work emergency come up. For in patients that have to stay in bed, providing a bed desk would be an easy way for them to get work done, should their medical conditions permit, of course? Hospitals can also engage patients in recovery to help educate recently-admitted patients about pre- and post-operation cautionary, which emphasizes that their endurance also provides value to others besides their health. 

Although the healthcare industry is indeed a very complex field, I would say that it is important to keep the focus on the core things. Many hospitals also use third party consulting services to identify opportunities for improvement and explore solutions. Other human-centered methods have also been frequently implemented in this problem space.

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