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Open Access Research article

Articulating current service development practices: a qualitative analysis of eleven mental health projects

Gyuchan Thomas Jun1*, Cecily Morrison2 and P John Clarkson2

Author Affiliations

1 Loughborough Design School, Loughborough University, Loughborough LE11 3TU, UK

2 Engineering Department, University of Cambridge, Trumpington Street, Cambridge CB2 1PZ, UK

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BMC Health Services Research 2014, 14:20  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-14-20

Published: 17 January 2014

Abstract

Background

The utilisation of good design practices in the development of complex health services is essential to improving quality. Healthcare organisations, however, are often seriously out of step with modern design thinking and practice. As a starting point to encourage the uptake of good design practices, it is important to understand the context of their intended use. This study aims to do that by articulating current health service development practices.

Methods

Eleven service development projects carried out in a large mental health service were investigated through in-depth interviews with six operation managers. The critical decision method in conjunction with diagrammatic elicitation was used to capture descriptions of these projects. Stage-gate design models were then formed to visually articulate, classify and characterise different service development practices.

Results

Projects were grouped into three categories according to design process patterns: new service introduction and service integration; service improvement; service closure. Three common design stages: problem exploration, idea generation and solution evaluation - were then compared across the design process patterns. Consistent across projects were a top-down, policy-driven approach to exploration, underexploited idea generation and implementation-based evaluation.

Conclusions

This study provides insight into where and how good design practices can contribute to the improvement of current service development practices. Specifically, the following suggestions for future service development practices are made: genuine user needs analysis for exploration; divergent thinking and innovative culture for idea generation; and fail-safe evaluation prior to implementation. Better training for managers through partnership working with design experts and researchers could be beneficial.