How Design Thinking helped the Department of Public Health Improve Services to Physicians and Families Affected by Lead Exposure

The Problem

The Flint Water Crisis brought lead poisoning into the national spotlight. Ottawa County Department of Public Health wanted to take proactive measures to better protect the county’s children from lead poisoning.

Led by Adaptive Capacity, a local consultancy, the team used design thinking methods to generate innovative approaches to addressing lead poisoning in their community.

The Process

Before talking about solutions, the group needed to think about the people affected outside their department. The first method they used was Personas. After brainstorming a list of all the stakeholders involved in lead exposure, they developed personas for:

Marcella the Mom, Age 26

  • Parent of child with elevated blood levels
  • She wants to feel helped, and in a timely fashion. To feel respected and cared for, that she can protect the kids in her household. And that she knows who to call.

Patti the Primary Care Provider, Age 40

  • She’s compassionate, frustrated by the system, and exhausted
  • OCDPH can help her know exactly when and how to check for lead exposure and what to do when a child is exposed to lead. She wants it to be an easy process that can make a big impact on her community.

Once the group had a good idea about the people involved, they considered their “why”: the purpose of the project and the hoped-for outcomes. Using Post-up & Cloud Grouping, they brainstormed many purpose statements and ideas about how to take an innovative approach.

To narrow the project focus, the group participated in the Titrate Up exercise.

The work resulted in 3 interconnected project components:

  • Research & Evaluation of existing approaches to lead exposure to determine what was and was not working
  • Improving Customer Service for providers, patients, and families at every level
  • Establishing and clarifying the roles and processes for all partners and agencies involved in lead exposure incidents

Finally, Adaptive Capacity led the team in Gates & Fences to help them evaluate these 3 project components against the realities and constraints, given time and resources.

At the same time, OCPHD formed a lead case management team that provides in-home nursing support to families of children with elevated blood levels, including health and nutrition assessment, evaluation of lead exposure risks in the home, and education about leading poisoning.

The Outcome

Using the information they discovered through design thinking methods, they developed an easy-to-understand brochure to help parents navigate the healthcare system. They also developed new protocols that involve physicians, parents, and local and state governments for identifying and treating children with elevated blood levels. The new protocols involve following up with health care providers on behalf of the children who have elevated blood levels and need additional testing.