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Rachel Abarbanel, Experience Design Grad Student

Rachel Abarbanel, who is a registered nurse (RN) in the Department of Psychiatry at Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital, regularly considers patient experience and how it can truly have an immediate and lasting impact on a patient’s mood. As she works with her patients and helps them navigate various steps of their visit, she thinks about their overall experience as they move throughout the hospital, something that is not innate for most healthcare providers. In fact, for many people, inside and outside the healthcare industry, it is extremely difficult to think that way, to consider how visitors are experiencing a space. Rachel, however, is challenging herself to continue to explore innovative ways to improve how healthcare systems and patients interact (both in-person and online) by pursuing an Experience Design graduate certificate at Northeastern University.

Experience design as a field is applicable to almost any given situation or environment that involves human interaction of some kind, so high-traffic places like hospitals are prime locations to investigate through an experience design lens. There are many connections and overlaps between healthcare and experience design that are making the various facets of Rachel’s schoolwork (she is also pursuing a Nurse Practitioner degree) and career work together in new ways.

“The program has been multidimensional and challenges me to think outside the box,” explained Rachel. “The classes facilitate creative thinking, and they are interactive and often set up as a workshop instead of lectures. This abstract thinking is quite a change from my linear quantitative way of thinking in healthcare.”

Through her studies in Experience Design, Rachel hopes to be able to implement real change in how certain healthcare professionals and practices operate, and communicate with patients, in order to improve the overall human experience. One small, but effective, change many hospitals have already started implementing is the addition of digital screens in patient waiting rooms that indicate whether a doctor is running on time, or if not, how behind schedule they are. In this sense, these screens signal to patients that their time is valuable, and they help set realistic expectations about what the wait will look like.

“This is an important part of starting off the patient experience on a positive, transparent note,” explained Rachel. “It may seem like a small implementation, but it helps improve how doctors are interacting with their patients, from the moment they walk through the door. It allows a patient to know whether they have time to go grab a coffee or quick bite to eat before their visit starts, and it can decrease the frustration that naturally comes with waiting.”

These changes in a physical space can make a big difference – but for Rachel’s final project in her current Experience Design class, her idea moves away from the waiting room and into the online digital world.

With the relevant human goals, needs, and desires in mind, she is prototyping an online support group that allows patients to virtually communicate with a specialist during a certain time. This is less expensive than one on one psychotherapy, and an online interaction can sometimes be more comfortable for patients, especially those who are struggling with mental health disorders. The goal is to provide a safe, confidential, and informative venue for a patient to discuss a certain topic with a healthcare professional – and most importantly, leave the conversation feeling as though the experience was positive.

Rachel, along with her fellow classmates, will be showcasing her ideas by making a video, poster, and prototype to share with the class. They will have the opportunity to explore each other’s ideas and of course, hear feedback from their professor, Kristian Kloeckl, Program Head of the Experience Design graduate programs.

“I have experienced creativity, inspiration, and such drive from my peers,” Rachel concluded. “I chose to come to Northeastern because it is in the forefront of innovation, and my expectations have far been exceeded. With this Experience Design certificate and the Master’s in Nursing, my ultimate goal is use my leadership to apply these concepts to enhance patient experience in hospital design.