Most of the time when we want to tackle a problem, we instantly go to the solution. For instance, instead of thinking about potential barriers to care that could decrease emergency room wait times, administrators may jump to the conclusion that workers need to work more quickly. Identifying the problem can often be more challenging than we can predict. When you are looking to come up with a solution, digging first into the problem can give you a leg up.
Get to the issue
If you are looking to create improvements in your hospital or health system, you want to clearly identify the problem you are trying to solve. For example, say you want clinicians to provide validated healthcare education and resources among those with a specific condition. You know what you want to do, but what problem is this trying to solve?
In this example, your problem would be something along the lines of patients not getting appropriate information from credible sources, not having resources available to make educated healthcare decisions, or not having the tools to monitor their symptoms and any possible triggers. When starting with the problem, you may open yourself up to other solutions that create less burden on already overworked clinicians, such as a marketing campaign around existing education materials or a digital education section within a mobile app that drives better engagement. When assessing the problem, think about the following questions:
- What problem am I looking to solve?
- Who is this for? Who is my target audience?
- How often is this problem occurring?
Do some digging
When you are working on identifying your problem, collect both qualitative and quantitative data. If you are implementing a secure platform to provide virtual visits, getting information on why in-person visits may not always work would help establish the true problem. It could be related to transportation, illness, or convenience. How many people miss appointments because of these issues, and does your proposed solution account for the underlying issues?
One way to do this successfully is to discuss the issues with key stakeholders. This could be others across your organization or those seeking healthcare services. Other examples of stakeholders can include community members, school staff, or those working in administrative functions. What do these individuals see that you may not? What patterns do you find when getting multidisciplinary input? Expanding beyond those in your local sphere – such as conferences or newsletters – may help you stay on top of trends that are important to you and the other stakeholders you hope to influence.
You’ll also want to collect quantitative data. Find credible sources and include that in your statement, such as “X number of hospitals find patient satisfaction to be lower than X%, especially when asking about customer service”. One tool that may help is using the CDC’s FastStats page, which has healthcare categories and statistics. Using data to support your problem and potential solution will help build alignment and buy-in from your stakeholders. It will also keep you grounded in the problem at hand – helping you avoid distraction with the latest shiny-object to hit your inbox.
Develop a statement
Once you’ve gathered the data and collected stakeholder input, you’re ready to develop a problem statement – a powerful opening tool that will help create focus. An example of a statement should include who is affected, how big the problem is, what contributes to the problem, and when and/or where the problem is likely to occur. Some businesses develop a statement that is a paragraph or more in length, while others prefer to stick to one sentence. An example problem statement might look like:
During the pandemic, hospital ABC has simultaneously experienced an increase in patient volumes and a decrease in nurse retention. In addition to the increased patient risk, this has brought additional financial burden and perpetuates a cycle of burnout that leads to lower retention.
Identifying and creating a problem statement can help hospital systems and administrators see exactly what your purpose is, the target audience, why this is a problem, and then lead to how you might solve it. This allows multiple solutions to be explored- including people, processes, or technology that can address the problem.
Why the problem first?
The problem-first strategy is much more comprehensive in identifying solutions and understanding all aspects of the issue at hand. For example, a solution-first strategy may use something like “We need to make the button bigger on our patient portal sign-up.” A problem-first strategy would say something like “We’re seeing drop off when patients referred from Google hit our patient portal sign-in. How might we improve conversion?” While the first dictates an answer, the latter identifies a problem and can allow for someone like a UX designer to explore appropriate solutions. While a more pointed example, this principle applies to broader, systemic problems because it allows experts to work together to identify ways to address a commonly understood issue.
Looking for the next step? Consider how might we statements to ideate solutions around the right problems.