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Design Thinking as a Tool for Interdisciplinary Education in Health Care

Design Thinking as a Tool for Interdisciplinary Education in Health Care. van de Grift, T. C. & Kroeze, R. Acad Med (2016).


This paper describes the implementation and outcomes of a one-semester crossover course entitled “Hacking Healthcare” developed at the University of Amsterdam. It was structured using the three stages of the design thinking process—inspiration, ideation, and implementation.


Hacking Healthcare was taken by 27 students—5 from medicine, 5 from psychology, and 4 from other disciplines (such as neuroscience and social sciences) and including both early-stage medical education students and students in clinical rotations, and 13 art students. Interdisciplinary students worked on an assigned case from one of the six partnering health care institutions.

  • The two-fold objectives of the inspiration phase were to perform a thorough context analysis and learn to empathize with the target group (the patient).
  • The ideation phase was guided by work done in the first stage and supported by creative methods and free time during group work portions of the course to develop innovative solutions for their case studies. Ideas were tested through prototyping.
  • In the implementation phase, one developed idea per case study was translated to a final prototype and turned into implementation strategies for the partnering institutions.

Outcomes of the case studies were both practical and unexpected, with a key human-centered and patient-centered component to the design. The course was rated positively by the university and medical students as a valuable learning experience.


The authors detail the creation of a one-semester interdisciplinary course that uses principles of design thinking, particularly the three stages of inspiration, ideation, and implementation. This is a fascinating idea and worked quite well in the context of the University of Amsterdam. A course such as this one could have value in an informatics context by engaging medical students and interdisciplinary teams in solving e-health problems and developing a mindset that is engaged with information technology and creative problem solving in the realm of e-health. The interdisciplinary component teaches students to work with others outside the field of medicine and working on real-life projects lends credibility and importance to the work done within the course.