design thinking

Right from the long dreary corridors to the noisy (sometimes hushed) waiting rooms infested with the sickening smell of disinfectants, hospitals conjure up an image of an anonymous and depressing place. Sometimes even visitors wonder, how can someone recover at such an institution? Rotterdam Eye Hospital was going through a similar plight, but they managed to gain their lost reputation with Design Thinking. They even won good safety and design awards – including a nomination for the prestigious Dutch Design Award – by incorporating design thinking principles into their planning process. Consequently, their patient intake rose by 47%. Scroll down and read more about it. 

Read More: How Design Thinking is Driving Innovation in Healthcare


The senior staff of Rotterdam Eye Hospital wanted to understand their patient’s experiences. They wanted to transform the hospital’s image from the usual, grim, human-repair shop into a bright and comforting place. 


The hospital board realized that most of their patients had a fear of becoming blind. That’s why their primary goal was to reduce that fear for the patients. The team got in touch with the internal/external stakeholders to get an idea about improvement strategies. They learned about the just-in-time practice, once practiced by the Dutch supermarket chain Albert Heijn and KLM, the flagship airline of the Netherlands. They also gained some insights about operational excellence from two eye hospital organizations founded by Rotterdam Eye Hospital: the World Association of Eye Hospitals and the European Association of Eye Hospitals.


The caregiving team at the hospital began some small-scale experiments; based on concepts delivered by the Rotterdam Eye Hospital innovation hunters. These were not significant clinical trials but small-scale experiments that supported the gradual adoption of new ideas. If one group in the hospital found some excellent results from a particular concept, other groups would also try it, as a result of which,  the best ideas spread organically. The best thing about these ideas was that they were moderately inexpensive. Right from the beginning,  planners kept a tab on cost, in part because the hospital worked with no outside consultants or high-priced designers. During this time, whenever there was a designer requirement, the planners used to come up with designers who saw a commission from the hospital as a way to gain experience and exposure.

They also came up with a change in the information and communication structure, primarily involving the hospital for children. Whenever a child was expected to visit a hospital for treatment, the hospital authority used to send them beautiful T-shirts with a specific animal print. Even the consulting ophthalmologists would wear a button with the same animal during the appointment. It gave them a way to connect with the children and to create a feeling of community. 

Smart yet unique architectural changes too contributed to reducing patient’s fears. For example, features like stepping stones at service counters that allow kids to communicate eye to eye with the hospital staff made the clinical procedure more fun and less frightening.

Read: How Hatch and Bloom used design thinking to improve food service and create a Better Life?


Not all the ideas worked. The idea to provide home pick-up did not reduce the patient’s fear of hospitals. Another concept of EyePad implementation, an app that helps a patient to track his/her progress through a procedure, wasn’t an instant hit. It took time for planners to persuade employees [of the hospital]  that the idea behind an electronic checklist was to reduce patient anxiety and improve service quality. 

Read More: How three banks are integrating design into customer experience?


The Rotterdam Eye Hospital went through a lot many positive changes by embracing Design Thinking. Patients were less scared about the environment and had a positive experience overall. 95% of all procedures could now be conducted without an overnight stay, and when it came to the overall survey, the hospital scored 9.5/10. As many of the experiments started showing some positive results, employees’ internal skepticism about the value of design declined. 


As you must have read, embracing Design Thinking had a positive effect on not only patients but also on hospital employees. Want to learn more about Design Thinking? You can apply for the Stanford Executive Education Design Thinking: For Young Innovators program, offering a comprehensive curriculum for young entrepreneurs. For more information about the program, you can click here. 



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