Design Thinking For Healthcare Training

In this blog we share some of our insights into co-design using the Design Council’s design methodology. Opening the health and social care sector to immersive technology for training, is not completely unchartered territory. Health Education England developed a National Framework for Simulation Based Education (SBE), demarcating the importance and benefits immersive simulation training can contribute to healthcare education.  At the surface level, clinical procedural knowledge appears as a dominant training theme, as opposed to soft skills e.g., relational communication skills, empathy, interprofessional communication that are equally as important to delivering high quality holistic patient care.
Moreover, the dissemination of training content is limited to England and the NHS, creating a closed community of practice that is challenging for external HE/FE education institutions to access. A secondary limitation centres on the content itself,  designed by the NHS there is a potential misalignment to relevant curriculum and training need within wider degree and further education formal qualifications. Echoing this narrative, the FE healthcare educators we interviewed in 2021 stated much of the immersive training content for healthcare, failed to succinctly align to qualification frameworks. Thereby reducing the efficacy and relevance to the FE and HE sectors – I liken this to trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
We also need to be mindful of how ready, or not students are to experience intense, real-world situations. Students generally participant in graduated programmes of study, that expose students to the professional world of work gradually.  Allowing students time to mature, adjust and adequately prepare themselves for work, or ‘work readiness’ is important to support student confidence and competence.  Training content that is too challenging, or not challenging enough is likely to be ineffective and may have adverse impact.

To achieve a line of best fit, our current UKRI project centres on the co-design  of two immersive training scenarios for students and professionals alike. Simply expressed, co-design is concerned with the meaningful involvement of end users in the design process. Participatory design is an integral element of co-design, enabling the translation of expert knowledge into user driven ideas that hold value to the end user.   It also ameliorates the risk of designing content that is unfit for our target audiences.

The Design Council2 proposes an innovative design methodology comprising of four stages, coined the Double Diamond to co-design content:

  • Discover: Understand  and explore the training challenge from the ‘inside out’, to remove any biases and preconceived ideas around the challenge.
  • Define: Define the training challenge in tandem with clients e.g., definition of learning outcomes.
  • Develop: Develop and shape potential training scenarios in tandem with key stakeholders, prior to developing the training solution.  Within this phase, we created iteration ‘touch points’ to accurately shape the solution prior to product development.
  • Deliver: Produce the training content for evaluation by key stakeholders, with the end goal to evaluate and facilitate future iterations.

We have incepted each pillar into this project to develop meaningful immersive training products facilitating co-design workshops.

Delivering collaborative online workshops with key stakeholders, has enabled the creation of digital safe spaces for informed discussion, ideation, and creativity whilst democratising innovation.   To further expand on the latter point, co-design provides end users with the tools they need, to innovate within their sector without the need for specialist expertise in technology.  Successful innovation can’t exist without bringing in stakeholder voices, else it’s just innovation for the sake of innovation – potentially the difference between a training product success and failure. Engaging in workshops, albeit online has been an extremely rewarding and beneficial activity for both The VR Hive and our stakeholders. Though designing a co-design workshop takes time and thought to   achieve eureka! moments. Integrating co-design activities that encourage open discussion, whilst still providing relevant information for product development are challenging to create.

If activities are too structured , stakeholders don’t have any space to be creative. Conversely,  activities that lack structure may mean the workshop tumbles into too much irrelevant discussion, creating disparate threads of thought.  It is a magic moment, when suddenly a stakeholder group experiences a moment of clarity, to achieve a consensus of ideas that drive the design process forwards.

Whilst we can’t reveal the details of exactly what we’re developing, we hope this blog has provided some insight into the design practices and approaches The VR Hive adopts.  Our UKRI project concludes in March – Keep an eye out for updates!  In the meantime, Dr Clare Carolan at UHI will join us as a guest in our February podcast to discuss immersive technologies in healthcare training.


World Health Organisation (2016) Health workforce requirements for universal health coverage and the sustainable development goals.  [Accessed 25 January 2022].