What’s service design and how can it improve the patient experience? That’s what Allison Matthews, a senior service designer at the Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation was on hand to explain to attendees of the Healthcare Design Expo & Conference on Monday.

Matthews, in her session “Developing a Cohesive Patient Experience Infrastructure at Complex Healthcare Organizations: A Design Process,” first offered a little background. Mayo Clinic, based in Rochester, Minn., sees 1.3 million unique patients a year, and the primary mission of the not-for-profit institution is that the needs of the patient come first, with the goal being to create a meaningful experience.

The Center for Innovation is a shared service group at the clinic, where any unit or division can request its experts to solve their challenges. That’s where service design comes into play, she said. Basically, she and her colleagues are charged with identifying the unspoken or latent needs of individuals and how to answer those with design.

Unlike most healthcare designers, “we have the luxury of time,” Matthews quipped. The team digs deep into issues, and even once spent a year on one hospital project. They research a topic through observation, from one-on-ones with patients to looking outside the industry to, say, a visit to McDonalds. “Then we begin to experiment,” she said. That means using mock-ups, prototypes, and other interventions to start translating what was learned to the subject department.

Overall, they’ve completed 270 projects in eight years and have spent more than 10,000 hours with patients. “We really feel like we know people,” she said. So when the Mayo Clinic’s Office of Patient Experience asked for some help in correcting what felt like a disjoined effort to deliver on its vision, mission, and operating principles for patient experience, the innovation center began its process of workshops and meetings.

However, fear did emerge when it came to ideas for innovating the process—what if what was changed was later realized to be where value was actually delivered? So Matthews said the team delved into where exactly value was taking place to limit that risk.

For example, when it comes to patient experience, there are going to be highs and lows. For example, Matthews said, you can’t make delivering the news of a cancer diagnosis a positive experience. But what the staff at Mayo Clinic could do is provide support and accommodate the needs of patients during those low points. “What we can do is say, ‘Where do we belong? How can the built environment be different to make it better?’”

Another challenge presented was to make adjustments to the patient experience infrastructure by keeping in mind that plenty of drivers and disruptors will likely change the face of patient experience in years to come.

Some mega trends to keep in mind included the experience economy—for example, the success of Apple products not just for what they do but for how they make people feel. “How can a space articulate this? How do you make a MinuteClinic feel this way? How do you make Skype feel like this?” Matthews said. Another is the Uber economy, or the trend of instant gratification. For example, why own a car if Uber will have one outside your door within minutes? And why go to your usual provider if today there are myriad options to basically get healthcare any way you want it?

Finally, Matthews shared the importance of the consumer-driven market and not just providing value but meeting (or exceeding) expectations in ways that keep people coming back. All points that echoed those of opening keynote presenter Ken Schmidt.

Matthews said the lessons learned from the process are starting to be articulated in how the patient experience office works at Mayo Clinic, although adoption is still slow.