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Anam Hospital's transformation began in ERPatient-focused service is survival strategy for Korea University Medical Center
  • By Kim Young-ju
  • Published 2017.03.07 08:00
  • Updated 2017.03.27 15:45
  • comments 0

Nearly two months have passed since the chaotic 2016 passed and hopeful 2017 arrived. Tough situations facing Korea, domestic or foreign, have changed little, however. Many businesses are emphasizing innovation, saying, “We can’t survive without changes.” The medical industry is no exception. The Korea Biomedical Review is launching a series of articles on institutions and businesses seeking innovation with new attempts, to share their know-how with our readers. – Ed.

Hong Gil-dong, a salaried man in his late 40s, experienced severe stomach pains one recent night and went to a nearby ER with his wife.

When Hong explained his symptoms at the reception, the nurse issued him an ER care card. He filled out his personal information, and the nurse tore the sheet and handed him his half, saying registration for his diagnosis was complete. The card listed his place in line, indicating how long he must wait. Soon, the hospital assigned Hong an ER sickbed in the B section for mild patients. The ER is divided into the A section for serious patients and the B section for mild patients, marked in red and yellow, respectively. His wife could immediately ask her questions at the B section staff desk. The medical personnel tended to patients in order as the couple waited patiently for their turn.

Long lines, inaccurate information and disorderly ambiance are inconveniences facing patients in hospital emergency rooms. To remedy this persistent problem, the Korea University Medical Center introduced service design to its Anam Hospital ER in 2014. Hong’s story is an illustration to explain how the new concept of service design at Anam aids patients.

KUMC’s prescriptions to cure its poor ER operation were issuing medical cards, dividing sickbed areas and improving the signal system. These changes hadn't cost a fortune or required advanced technologies but brought about many changes for patients and the hospital. Patients could better estimate their waiting time and order instead of waiting around indefinitely, while medical staffs could focus properly on diagnosis instead of addressing patients’ complaints. KUMC then expanded service design to the entire institution to create a patient-centered hospital.

KUMC cured poor ER operations by issuing medical cards, dividing sickbed areas and improving the signal system in 2014.

At the center of these changes is Choi Jung-min, deputy general manager of KUMC’s public relations team, who has conducted the projects as a “User Experience and Service Design” expert. “Our top priority is patient safety. All staff members agree, and everyone actively participates in the design process,” Choi said.

The children’s ward is a real manifestation of these convictions. They created the space for children, lining hallway walls with animal murals and marking patient rooms with the pictures of animals like koalas and foxes, for children who haven’t learned to read yet. To appease young patients who hate getting syringe shots, a bird-shaped mobile hangs from the treatment room ceiling. Several elements in the ward show the center’s attention to detail.

But the animal theme is only a teaser for the real transformations inside the rooms.

Until the summer of 2015, children’s wards everywhere had struggled with a slew of IV stands and strollers lining hallways. There were dangerous moments when children played by hanging onto wheeled IV stands or collided with strollers in the hallways. But the hospital had no storage space for the stands and strollers, so the obstacles stayed in the hallway.

The staff decided to solve this problem by decreasing the number of beds in each infirmary room. One less bed created space for IV stands and strollers. They converted the only single room into a counseling facility where patients and their guardians could communicate with medical staff. It was a bold decision considering the reality that more beds mean more profits.

The service design campaign at KUMC is the joint product of all of its employees, including the medical staff, who made active participation. Everyone involved took time from their hectic schedules to join meetings for research and brainstorming because they shared understanding that the changes were essential for patients. “If you have an idea and are willing to share it, anyone can be a service designer at KUMC,” he said.

That may explain why there are so many designers at KUMC. Since 2012, students at Korea University School of Art & Design have displayed their graduation projects dealing with the subject of Anam Hospital’s service design. The hospital is drawing inspiration from students’ innovative ideas to develop its design plans. The graduation exhibit began with the joint proposal of Professors Lee Tae-il and Yoo Seung-hun.

Also, Anam Hospital and KUMC operated the Healthcare Service Design Research Society during last winter vacation. Medical students make plans concerning Anam Hospital’s service design in the society, led by Professors Lim Chun-hak and

Son Ho-sung. Currently, the students are researching and developing initiatives regarding the medical center’s rounds system and maternity ward. Though the hospital may get service design ideas from medical students, its primary goal is to instill a “patients first” mindset in students who will become doctors someday.

KUMC will continue to use Anam Hospital as a testbed for service design project and expand its application to Guro Hospital and Ansan Hospital. It has already introduced the successful ER sign system of Anam Hospital to Guro Hospital.

What sets KUMC’s service design apart from other hospitals’ is the integration of education, research and medical service. It could integrate education, research, and medical service to service design as it was a university hospital, and draw a consensus from its staff members. And this shows why the industry needs to watch how KUMC-affiliated hospitals will change in the future.


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