Just What the Patient Ordered

HM_LOGOHere is this month’s piece on the changing world of work from furniture maker Herman Miller, a company for which Peter Drucker long consulted and that continues to exemplify his principles of innovation and effectiveness.


While everyone’s buzzing about the Affordable Care Act and keeping up with the latest medical technology and treatments, another revolution is quietly, but just as profoundly, reshaping our approach to healthcare. It’s a shift in perspective that puts the patient at the center of every decision, from policy to product design.

That’s the idea behind Planetree, a nonprofit organization founded by a patient to personalize, humanize and demystify healthcare. Like Peter Drucker, Planetree is interested in putting the “customer” at the center of everything—in this case, patients and their families.

More specifically, Planetree develops guidelines that help transform an organization’s desire to be more patient-centered into a defined and measurable process. And by nearly all accounts, the Planetree model is working.

Today, Planetree counts more than 500 organizations among its partners—including a few that aren’t even healthcare providers. Herman Miller, through our Herman Miller Healthcare and Nemschoff business units, last year became the first manufacturer accepted as a member of the Planetree Visionary Design Network, a collaborative forum that provides insight, expertise and guidance to advance Planetree design in all healthcare settings.

Thanks to a long tradition of human-centered design at these businesses, the idea of focusing on the patient was a natural fit. Indeed, over the past several years, Herman Miller Healthcare and Nemschoff have been interviewing patients and caregivers, studying facilities and testing designs to gain a better understanding of patient needs. Among our insights are three that Drucker, who wrote quite a bit about hospitals and health systems, would have surely appreciated:

  • Patients want healthcare furniture that helps them feel in control, whether that means adjusting the angle of recline to alleviate discomfort or choosing their own level of privacy during infusion treatments. As Drucker warned, one of the worst things any provider can do “is to ‘know better’ than the customer what the product or service is or should be.”
  • Moving technology out of the way can improve communication between patients and caregivers by creating more personal, face-to-face connections. Technology “does not replace face-to-face relationships,” Drucker wrote. “In fact, it makes it more important . . . to get to know one another and to understand one another.”
  • Support from a patient’s friends and family is an important part of the healing process. By designing ways to include them at the bedside, we can add to a patient’s sense of comfort and security. “You need to know what the satisfactions should be for your customers,” including “the sick in your hospital,” Drucker declared in Managing the Nonprofit Organization. “What is really meaningful to them?”

The search for what is meaningful begins and ends with the patient. That perspective, advocated by organizations like Planetree, is helping alter the healthcare landscape for the better.

—Ellen Hansen, Healthcare Design Strategist, Herman Miller Healthcare

Image courtesy of Herman Miller
Image courtesy of Herman Miller