Designing Human-Centered Culture


HXD Series: #2  

The annual HXD conference provides a unique crossroads for a diverse community of executives and practitioners in design, innovation, research, strategy, and technology to help accelerate the transformation of our health care system. This interview is with Alan Manning, a featured speaker.

The concept of “patient-centered” in health care is not a new one. However, it is a phrase that has become more and more commodified in recent years. Along with similar trending terms like, “humanized health care” or “human-centered design”, what is and has always been at the center of health care - the person, or patient - has become a topic of conference conversation, policies, and with the help of financial incentives, a revived goal for many hospital systems and health care organizations.

However, operationalizing patient-centered health care is a complex cultural transformation - there are no simple fixes.

Planetree is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1978 by a patient named Angelica Thieriot. She founded it after experiencing various personal health care traumas in the hopes of improving patient experience by providing “education and information in a collaborative community of healthcare organizations, facilitating efforts to create patient-centered care in healing environments.”

Since its inception, Planetree has worked to inspire deeper consideration around the complexity inherent in operationalizing true patient-centered, or more specifically, person-centered care. Even in its move from defining its services as patient-centered to person-centered, Planetree is promoting new language and a way of understanding how holistic care of an individual’s health expands beyond a person’s symptoms.

As their website states, “Better understanding the social determinants of an individual’s health is an integral component of a person-centered care.”

And yet it is this understanding that is all too often squashed out of even the most well-intentioned health care provider.

Alan Manning is Planetree’s Executive Vice President and heads up strategic operations. Over the last ten years he has helped to expand Planetree’s commitment to providing the not-for-profit’s members with certain services - knowledge, leadership and design skills, strategy and planning techniques -  that help health care organizations to transform internal structures and staff behavior so as to better support person-centered culture.

“Technology is vital to this transformation, but it is not the answer,” says Manning. “The relationships between provider and patient are crucial. Technology cannot be a proxy for this relationship. Technology will make us faster, stronger, broader; but how does this impact our life?”

In some ways, technology covers up the systemic issues at the heart of failing to deliver empathetic care to people. But, as Manning points out, this isn’t symptomatic of the technology itself; rather, finding a particular solution to a particular problem and not seeing the whole system is inherent to medical science and training.

Instead of seeing a person as a set of problems to solve, Manning and his team encourage training and operational support for a passionate mode of inquiry from all those involved in providing health care - from the administrative staff to the doctors and nurses.

By focusing on operationalizing culture change, Planetree teaches community organization partners to better define their purpose (staff connecting with the vision of the organization), refine their processes (allowing staff to be better heard), and build space for practice (where the skills and knowledge introduced can be modeled and practiced in everyday operations.)

Over the years Planetree’s unique bi-directional approach has infused critical culture change within their partner organizations. Their methods support seeing beyond the problem to the dynamic system contextualizing and perpetuating the problem. It is a refreshing perspective that appreciates not only the innovation needed to scale change, but the operational infrastructure - the capacity - to sustain that change in care delivery.


Susan Williams