Article Text

Download PDFPDF
Design thinking as an approach for innovation in healthcare: systematic review and research avenues
  1. Mariana Oliveira,
  2. Eduardo Zancul,
  3. André Leme Fleury
  1. School of Engineering, Industrial Engineering Department, Universidade de São Paulo (USP), Sao Paulo, Brazil
  1. Correspondence to Dr Eduardo Zancul, School of Engineering, Industrial Engineering Department, Universidade de São Paulo (USP), Sao Paulo, Brazil; ezancul{at}


Design thinking has been increasingly adopted as an approach to support innovation in healthcare. Recent publications report design thinking application to various innovation projects, across medical specialties, including paediatrics, psychiatry, radiology, gastroenterology, oncology, orthopaedics and surgery, as well as to innovation in hospital operations and healthcare management. Current literature in the area typically focuses on single case descriptions. With the recent increase in the number of cases, there is an opportunity to assess multiple cases to identify patterns and avenues for further research. This study provides a systematic review of published design thinking projects in healthcare. The aim of the study is to provide an overview of how design thinking has been applied in the healthcare sector. Data collection was based on Institute of Scientific Information (ISI) Web of Science, PubMed and Scopus databases. The systematic review followed Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guidelines. A total of 32 original pieces of research was selected for analysis, being classified and assessed. The paper presents current status of research and practice from various perspectives, including the design thinking progression phase—inspiration, ideation, implementation—and the prevalence of design thinking tools. Avenues for further research include the need to increase focus on the inspiration phase, the opportunity for platforms for leveraging the integration of individuals in innovation projects, and the opportunity to enhance the role of lead users in healthcare innovation.

  • inventions
  • economics
  • psychiatry
  • geriatrics
  • diagnostics
View Full Text

Statistics from


  • Contributors ALF and MO planned the study. MO conducted the data gathering and literature review analysis. ALF and EZ guided the research method and revised the manuscript.

  • Funding This study was financed by the Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior (CAPES) – Finance Code 001 and by the Ocean R&D Programme.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as supplemental information. Data reuse is permitted.

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.