In my last post, I talked about the evolution of design thinking toward what now is rapidly becoming a necessity: the digital transformation of businesses from the ground up.

Such work is necessary from the standpoint of competitive advantage; it also offers businesses a changed paradigm for how they parse and act on the digital treasure trove of information they can gather about their customers. Disney’s Magic Band was the example I used of how digital information can not only make an experience more enjoyable for the customer but also gives Disney an avenue to better running its own complex entertainment business.

All in good fun, right? But transformational design doesn’t just improve the user experience for the purposes of thrills or entertainment or convenience. It can help save lives.

Hands on and paperless in the ICU

Ever been to an ER? At the best of times, it’s frantically busy and complex. At the worst, it’s bedlam: patients bleeding, doctors barking, sensors beeping, nurses and aides bumping each other as they rush to and from, bed to bed, patient to patient. It’s also a forest of paper: scribbled notes, prescription orders, patient care charts—places where errors can creep in.


Same thing in an ICU. The pace is more sedate, but every single patient in an ICU is receiving critical post-operative care. Every breath is watched. Every action has consequences. Information is vital, so there is paper everywhere. Reports, scripts, charts, hanging from beds on hooks.

And yes, error creeps in. Every year, preventable medical errors result in a significant number of deaths at hospitals. Misdiagnosis accounts for as much as 10% of such deaths. A misinterpretation of symptoms. Wrong prescriptions or treatments. Missed information or broken communication. Lapses in clarity that can cost people their lives.

A big part of that is the way in which hospitals treat patients from the moment they arrive. And while the ER is the most visible part of a hospital—the tip of the spear for admissions, the most critical and difficult operation within a hospital is the ICU. Changing how ICUs operate and how successfully they address the needs of all patients can improve the quality of patient care throughout their stays, lessening the risk of error and markedly lowering costs (not least, for medical malpractice insurance).

Last year, I saw how digital thinking can transform an ICU to cut down errors, based on a complete reimagining of how digital technologies might allow an ER to function. The objective was to lower morbidity rates. The key was for caregivers to easily enter, update, and share critical information about patients with all care providers in the unit.

TS462388591_144_webPaper was out. Digital was in. A custom set of applications and information-management protocols allowed notes on patient’s treatment, their symptoms and medical histories, their prescriptions and medications, and instructions from doctors to nurses and aides to be entered in a system, tracked, and shared on tablets with all caregivers in a fault-free environment. It changed how the ICU personnel, doctors, and staff manage their patient data.

The result? Better care, greater efficiency, better outcomes. The ICUs we worked with had a simple user interface to enable transparent information exchange. They had exhaustive, unambiguous records on each patient’s situation and the treatments each was to receive. The project realized approximately a 50% reduction in human errors, with corollary benefits of an overall 20% reduction in the length of the average patient stay in the ICU and a 30% gain in the efficiency of nurses.

Critical care for competitive companies

Digital thinking. It guides the transformation of business operations by examining how digital technologies—hyper-connectivity, smart devices, big data analysis—can improve user experience. Design thinking starts by taking a human centered lens that can leverage these technologies to change how businesses serve their customers—from the ground up.

Transformational design. An evolving new paradigm that prompts us to think differently about how technology can positively address the needs of consumers. Not technology per se, but rethinking how a business operates, from the ground up, to tailor user experiences at scale and in real-time.

A happy patron of an amusement park, as in Disney’s Magic Band. A helpless patient in the ICU—likely wearing a different type of band. User-experience design entails creating an experience that meets users’ quantifiable but often unacknowledged needs, informing and guiding them.

What do you think? Have you considered altering your customer experience by rethinking how your business operates from the ground up? I’m interested in hearing your view.

Theo Forbath

Theo Forbath

Theo Forbath is Global Vice President of Digital Transformation at Cognizant. With more than fifteen years’ experience as an innovator in global... Read more

  • Kannan Sreedhar

    Theo, Your article on transforming the ICU is a great read and very relevant in today’s environment where there is a significant focus on “Triple Aim” – improving assess, better outcomes and lower cost (greater efficiency). We must acknowledge the challenges of integrating data across multiple physician-patient interactions (primary care, ER and ICU) as well as the interactions that patients have as consumers of social media. My thoughts are that we should not focus exclusively on improving the ICU environment but take the same approach to improving quantifiable expectations of patients and clinicians across the entire healthcare spectrum from disease management to wellness. The Cognizant digital Works approach of Experience Strategy + Design can be a great start to this revolution.