patient advisors 2018
Patient Designers (from left): Judy Wolbach, Mary Martha Tripeny, Rusty Andrade, Elke Brown, Charlotte Falkner, Mark Miller (not pictured): Lezlie Matthews, Robin Roberts, Paul Zander.
What do patient’s want? Ask them.
Ever wonder why your thoughtfully planned improvement fell flat with patients? Enter the University of Utah Health Patient Design Studio, a group of patients who meet monthly with improvers to provide actionable, direct and collaborative input on their improvement efforts.

The Patient Design Studio


ven with the best of intentions and experience, health care’s efforts to design processes often feel tone-deaf to patients. Improvers have long implemented solutions and then waited to see if the patients like it, only to discover they don’t. Occasionally, improvers solicit feedback through surveys or focus groups, typically gathering general input about patients’ experience of care. While helpful, the information is often too generalized to apply to a specific change.

Enter the University of Utah Health Patient Design Studio, a group of patients who meet with improvers at any point along their problem investigation, design, or implementation. The designers are both patients and caregivers. Some are healthy, some are chronically ill; some feel comfortable with technology and others are MyChart novices. All are passionate about improving the delivery of health care.

For nearly three years, the Patient Design Studio has met monthly to give input to improvers across the system. The improvement team provides background problem information and targeted questions. The designers review the materials in advance, seeking input from their community on the subject. The session feedback is actionable, direct and collaborative. Most teams get the input they need in 20 minutes. The designers balance their feedback—communicating patient needs and wants within the context of realistic and practical solutions.

The result is that we are able to get better faster. Improvers leave the session with practical, actionable input. We are able to reduce the number of improvement cycles needed to find the best solution.

The conversation is diverse—from patient gowns to parking and inpatient rounds.

How it works

One week before the meeting: Participants submit 3-5 questions and any reading materials to be sent to the members of the design studio in advance.

Day of the meeting: Participants come to the meeting and listen to feedback for 20 minutes, little talking from presenter, and no more than 3 slides (if any).

See it applied

The problem

Infection Prevention and Control manager Cathy Gray was charged with improving patient hand hygiene throughout University of Utah Health. She came to the Patient Design Studio with an extensive education plan that included posters, handouts and fliers all designed to teach patients the importance of and how to keep their hands clean. The questions she asked the design studio were:

  1. What do you want to know as a patient or visitor about hand hygiene?
  2. What’s the best way for us to provide this information?

The designers said

Patients already know it’s important to wash their hands and how to do it. They suggested scrapping the signs and brochures. The problem they identified is that patients in the hospital can’t always get out of bed to wash their hands, and had no other way to keep them clean. In addition, when entering a health care facility, they wanted a way to clean their hands and were not offered one.

They suggested having hand sanitizer where they wanted it, when they wanted it. “We don’t need you to explain the importance of clean hands, we just need you to make it easier for us to do it.”

The improvement

Based on Patient Design Studio feedback, Cathy and her team worked with Environmental Services to provide a personal bottle of hand sanitizer in each inpatient’s welcome packet. The advent of hand scanner identification provided the perfect opportunity to equip registration desks with hand sanitizer and to have staff provide encouragement to use it when checking in.

When asked about her experience consulting with the patient designers, Cathy exclaimed, “It was FABULOUS! It’s a great place to get immediate input to compare against what we thought. It resulted in enormous time savings compared to our initial plan and we’re rolling out what patients actually want.”

More improvements from the Patient Design Studio

Interested in other projects the Patient Design Studio has impacted? Here are a few more examples:

Problem Patient Designer Feedback
From Construction: We’re building a new outpatient clinic building. What should the exam rooms look like compared to the proposal from the architectural firm? Exam rooms should maximize conversation. Rooms should be allow my doctor to look at me without the barrier of the computer, but there should also be a place for my doctor to show or draw something for me. At least 2 people need to fit in the room, and one of those may be in a wheelchair.
From Endoscopy: There is discomfort, extra cost, and lost time for patients that don’t properly prepare for their procedure. The prep document contradicted itself, needed to fit on one page, and should include more pictures or diagrams where possible.
From Dermatology: Our acutely sick patients don’t know what to expect after their appointment. Acutely ill patients need more structured communication. Try providing written information at the end of the visit with diagnosis, medications, when the physician expects the patient to feel better, and what to do if the patient doesn’t feel better in the expected amount of time. (read more about same-day dermatology)

If you have an improvement problem you would like to bring to the Patient Design Studio, contact for more information.


Marcie Hopkins

Manager, Patient Experience, University of Utah Health

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