Working in healthcare is something of a family business for Akshata Malhotra, who grew up in a small hospital in her native India, where both her parents are doctors. Initially, she didn’t think it would be her calling too. A graduate of the Strategic Design Management program at the National Institute of Design in India, Akshata was interested in product design.

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Her choice to work in healthcare stems directly from her DSI thesis project, Wise MD, which explores how to change primary care doctors’ behavior, helping them reduce unnecessary testing. Describing the process of choosing her thesis project as a highlight of her time at DSI, Akshata says: “It’s an amazing experience. You’re encouraged to think through your life to really understand what matters to you. It’s extremely challenging but ultimately makes your work so much more meaningful.”

As Field Analyst at the Peterson Center on Healthcare she’s carrying that forward, bringing design solutions to the complex business of primary healthcare provision.

Akshata is currently working on the America’s Most Valuable Care project, a partnership between Peterson, a non-profit organization dedicated to making higher quality, more affordable healthcare a reality for all Americans, and Stanford University’s Clinical Excellence Research Center.

A study by the Stanford team has identified ten key behaviors shared by high-performing primary care sites in communities large and small nationwide, that are consistently delivering high-quality care at a lower-than-average total cost. Now, Peterson is working on market testing with three practices to see if the behaviors can be adapted.

Akshata’s responsibilities include researching and analyzing the user experience at healthcare sites, developing key insights that can inform the design of digital and content products, developing concrete user personas and insights, translating these into tangible design briefs and product or program prototypes, and finally, using design to help support the visualization of complex concepts and data. The goal is to create a digital platform where these behaviors can be scaled across the United States.

In addition to testing these ten behaviors, she is creating tools that will demonstrate their replicable nature, and communicating results to encourage their adoption by other primary care physicians.

Akshata is currently the only designer in the Peterson organization (although she says, more are coming). Working with people whose academic background is in medicine and global health, she’s enjoying the challenge of introducing a design approach. “I’m not just using technical skills – although I am doing that – but more importantly, I’m thinking about how my colleagues work and how to introduce design thinking, how ideas can be shared and values aligned between teams.”

Akshata learned about DSI while volunteering with a housing project in Peru. Once she learned about the program, “I knew I wanted to do it.”  She found DSI to be diverse both culturally and professionally, with classmates from 14 different countries and varied academic and career backgrounds. This gives the program a cultural richness, and different perspectives from students without a design background. “The way they thought about design was very different and eye opening for us designers. I realized that for me, design wasn’t about aesthetics any more, but about how systems function and about human needs – DSI really teaches you to put people at the center of everything.”

Students who come to DSI want to make a positive impact. Akshata says “Especially now, to be at the center of so much change, DSI is a great place to be.” The Peterson project is a good example. “We’re asking a great deal of the users, to implement behaviors that are new to them. It’s a big deal to change doctors’ behaviors. I’m using a lot of context and connections I learned from my thesis.”