Rethinking the Collaboration of Healthcare Professionals with a Human-Centered Approach

Svenja Müller
Experience Matters
Published in
5 min readDec 11, 2020


University Hospital Heidelberg, Department of Neurology: A team of healthcare professionals visited the SAP AppHaus in Heidelberg for a Design Thinking workshop to define their vision.

In October 2020, a team of healthcare professionals from the University Hospital Heidelberg spent one day learning about Design Thinking (DT). While the SAP AppHaus within SAP’s Customer Innovation organization has been successfully co-innovating with the University Hospital on cloud-based projects in the past, this time was different: in the framework of the SAP AppHaus Innovation Culture offering, the workshop supported the participants in discovering how DT, as a methodology, can help them optimize their collaborative work for the benefit of the patients.

“By applying this design thinking approach for our team building and the patient-focusing collaboration processes, we are a forerunner at the University Hospital Heidelberg. The team is really excited now to put the vision and just learned concepts into practice.”

— Prof. Dr. med. Wolfgang Wick, Medical Director, Department of Neurology at the University Hospital Heidelberg

On a Friday at noon, the team from the new Neurology Department arrived at the SAP AppHaus for a two-hour workshop. Earlier that morning, the team had met for the very first time. To prepare them for the day and the tasks ahead Sabine Hoyer, HR consultant at the University Hospital and professional DT-Coach, introduced them to the Design Thinking methodology and a series of team building activities at the University Hospital.

When arriving at the SAP AppHaus the healthcare professionals were welcomed and briefed on SAP’s hygiene and distancing rules to ensure the safety and health of all participants.

Providing a secure environment for the workshop participants

Design Thinking the organization of healthcare teams

Starting off the workshop in a plenum, the participants were introduced to the SAP AppHaus as part of SAP T&I Customer Innovation and the team’s concepts by Michaela Epp, Program Manager at the AppHaus since 2014. She demonstrated how SAP’s Human-Centered Approach to Innovation is used to find solutions to challenges in various industries’ processes including healthcare, as well as to design creative spaces. To put the concepts explained into practice, the group was split into three break-out teams. They were paired with a Design Thinking coach to work on a common vision, taking the needs of patients, their relatives and the healthcare staff into account.

During the exercise called “Remember the Future” the team jointly created a vision for a date in two years from now by working on a newspaper title page featuring their team, to explain what is the desired achievement by then and why? This “Remember the Future” exercise makes it easier for the participants to define how they measure success because people tend to be more specific when looking back on already occurred events instead of imagining abstract future goals.

Strict social distancing during the workshop

To adhere to the restrictions and distancing rules due to COVID-19, this session had to be adapted. Where the participants normally come together at one table and whiteboard while sharing their thoughts and prototyping material, all team-members had their own prototyping material, post-its and pens on a desk in front of them. Always keeping the distance of two meters from each other, the coaches collected the post-its and prototyping material, to jointly build a compelling title page for each sub-team. With the support of the coaches, the participants had even more time to engage in discussions with their team members and generate multifaceted ideas and headlines that could then be collected and phrased into a joint vision for the future.

Participants working out their future vision with the support of Design Thinking coaches

A shared future vision

After finishing this exercise, the plenum synthesized the three outcomes into one common vision statement. The team discussions and input showed that they were all heading towards the same direction of a win-win situation: to get happy and satisfied patients and relatives through a proud inter-professional team in order to improve life quality.

In a next step the team identified the milestones on their way to achieve this shared vision of the future. While defining achievements and possible hurdles on their way, the group also talked openly about their fears and hopes and how they see their future collaboration.

“The workshop at the SAP AppHaus gave us a very important impetus to the work at the ward and we defined a basis for our creative way of working together.”

Robin Krüger, Station Management Neurology 6, Department of Neurology at the University Hospital Heidelberg

Synthesizing the team’s visions in the plenum

While the time for the workshop was too short, according to some participants, the overall feedback was positive. Additionally, the team realized that even though Design Thinking methods can be of significant value, they are only effective if all team-members are willing to invest time and effort in the future to realize what they just had agreed on. As Prof. Dr. med. Wolfgang Wick, Medical Director, puts it: “By applying this design thinking approach for our team building and the patient-focusing collaboration processes, we are a forerunner at the University Hospital Heidelberg. The team is really excited now to put the vision and just learned concepts into practice.”

This first day was just the beginning. The SAP AppHaus team is excited to see what the future holds for the University Hospital Heidelberg as a long-term customer and the new team on their journey of optimizing treatment and collaboration processes.

Written by Julia Jakob and Svenja Müller



Svenja Müller
Experience Matters

Global Communications — SAP AppHaus —Love to inspire with innovative stories