Design-Thinking - A Must In Successful Stroke Rehabilitation

Design-Thinking As a New Approach

A stroke is a brain attack caused by a blockage or bleeding inside or around the brain. This life-changing occurrence is affecting many people each second.

The effects of stroke vary from person to person. Due complex nature of brain injury, there is no general way for everyone to get healed in the same way. Thus, personalized rehabilitation is required to address the particular needs of the stroke patient.

The physical rehabilitation focuses on relearning control and coordination of movements affected by damage to areas of the brain, and on ways to cope with everyday activities to compensate for losses in function. What happens with all the patients affected by stroke? How does a successful physical rehabilitation look like?

There is a new way that evolved over the past few years.

Design-Thinking applied in physical rehabilitation and here’s why:

Design-Thinking Process

Design thinking is a non-linear process, iterative process that companies use to understand users, challenge assumptions, redefine problems and create innovative solutions to prototype and test. 

‘’Design Thinking — The essential ability to combine empathy, creativity and rationality to meet user needs and drive business success.’’

Through basic brainstorming and constant iteration various methods come alive that can be adpated to a problem. It consists of a six-step process of the following steps:

Photo by Design-Thinking is a repeating process.

Empathize: Emphatic understanding of user needs

Define: Definition of parameters and the focus

Ideate: Brainstorming of potential solutions

Prototype: Creation of a prototype

Test: Testing of parameters and prototype

Implement: Implement the prototype successfully

During this procedure of constant iteration, it is the users needs that are the driving force in the Design-Thinking process.

Looking at the visualization of the Design-Thinking process, it appears to be a linear and simple process. But it isn’t. Here’s an example.

Sometimes we might think we understood the patient fully, we think we recognized all the symptoms and empathized. But some things occur with a delay and we don’t know everything as we think. New unpredictable things might occur during physical rehabilitation. That’s why it has to be defined and refined over again and again. Then, we ideate on the possible exercises and things that should be included in the rehabilitation process. Once we have a final prototype of a possible rehabilitation process, we might think it’s perfect. But it isn’t. 

For example, what if the patient didn’t even come to the therapy? What if the patients did all the things that they’ve been told, but still not feeling better? What happens then? We simply start again to empathize and repeat all the steps until it’s successful.

Jumping Between The Steps And Its Context

Jumping backwards and forwards between steps are the norm. Getting feedback from medical team, therapists and the patient to improve a rehabilitation is a crucial part of the process.

Photo by | ‘’Design Management triangulates a problem from a 360 Degree.‘’

An extended version of design-thinking includes further steps ahead, such as understanding and observing. Even after a successful implementation, there is a need to check it up regularly and transform it into a sustainable business model.

Human-Centered Approach

Photo by Truthseeker08 on Pixabay | ‘’The broader one’s experience of the human experience, the better design we will have.’’

A Human-centered approach is important because everything starts with the patient. With a human. And a human body is complex. It starts with understanding the patient in a deeper way including their emotions, considering the pain points in a roadmap, considering various stakeholders, considering external influences, and contrasting all the things again from a holistic point of view. 

Physical rehabilitation requires a human-centered approach due to different types of stroke patients, the diversity of symptoms, and the several ways of making a successful rehabilitation work.

‘’Design-Thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and requirements for business success.’’ – Tim Brown

Photo by peer Insight Design-thinking is a problem-solving process with many W-Questions.


Understanding why there is a problem in successful rehabilitation, why a physical rehabilitation fails, what if the patient forgot their therapy or intentionally don’t show up, what and why something needs to be improved and what worked out well, is very important to note.

Photo by Pexels on Pixabay | ‘’Accountability has become a major issue in Health Care.’’

Patient, Public Involvement and Data

Different stakeholders in the stroke rehabilitation setting, i.e. clinical biomechanist, therapist, and patient need to be considered. Everyone has a different point of view and focus. For instance, a biomechanist focuses on a rehabilitation session on gaining a detailed understanding of the dynamic forces exerted by the patient’s muscles as a means to improving the quality of treatment, and ultimately the healthcare outcome.

Photo by MCN, Managed Clinical Network | ‘’Diagram showing membership of the management and working group of an Exercise after Stroke service.’’

A therapist is concerned with assisting the patient in a program of movement exercises which help in the neuroplastic reshaping of the brain’s functions, damaged by the stroke. The patient is concerned with recovering, to as great an extent as possible, their normal (i.e. former) self.

Photo by Angelo Esslinger on Pixabay | ‘’Research shows that patients are more likely to establish a good therapeutic relationship when they have good interpersonal and communication skills.’’

The rehabilitation setting becomes a theatre for intensively social and emotional processes involving physical contact and a two-way process. Between the therapist and patient, there is a need for clear communication and understanding and of what movements should be made and why. It’s also important to measure progress. This, to see what progress has been made and what needs to be changed and still improved. Data is everything. Only in this way, we can manifest those things and analyze them to improve a situation.

Integration Of Mixed Methods

The physical rehabilitation of stroke patients is a complex ongoing process with many different factors to consider. It is challenging, because of the complexity of human body and human mind. One solution to improve the rehabilitation process might impact another aspect in a disadvantaged way. 

Photo by Gert Altmann on Pixabay | ‘’It’s a wicked problem that needs to be triangulated and viewed from different point of views.’’

Importance Of Data

Data plays an important role. There is constant information needed on the patients condition and far beyond. An effective communication and patient’s understanding of their treatment have been identified to have a positive impact on their compliance, leading to a better chance of improved treatment outcomes.

‘’Every piece of information gives us a further valuable insight to improve the process and the wellbeing of the patient.’’

The biggest obstacle is often the implementation part of the whole concept. This includes the roles of many different people, patient emotions, patient’s behavior connected to psychology and other things planned out in the design-thinking process. It all needs to work to be well-coordinated and work in harmony as one.

Photo by Gert Altmann on Pixabay | ‘’With the given data the prototypes of successful physical rehabilitation can be designed more adaptive and human-centered.’’

Humanized Process

Sometimes a completely new prototype has to be created and tested again. That is why, it can be a much longer process than we’ve expected. It’s almost a never-ending process. 

The main focus and driving force is the user’s needs. The patient itself. Design-thinking humanizes the process and that’s what makes it sustainable when it comes to stroke rehabilitation. It plays a huge role in health care and the same principles can be applied in all industries across the world.


– Barblan, B. (2020). Nothing AG. What Design Thinking is Not — Taking the buzz out of the word.

– Macdonald, A. (2014). School of Design. The Glasgow School of Art. A design-led complex intervention for the stroke rehabilitation service.

– (2020). What is human centered design? Creaholic clients will benefit hugely from this new area of expertise.

Published by ozzinjun

Inspiring People To Jump In At The Deep End

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