Creative Problem Solving in Healthcare

//Creative Problem Solving in Healthcare


There are 5 primary strategies to use when looking for creative ways to solve problems in healthcare:

  • Brainstorming
  • Thinking hats
  • Problem reversal
  • S.W.O.T.
  • Role-playing

We all have to deal with problems, not only at work, but also in our personal lives. Planning a wedding or a party, finding child care, paying bills, trying to arrange transportation for family members to get where they need to go…all of these are frequent problems that we have to deal with.

As a healthcare worker, your workplace is always changing. It is full of challenges and new clients. You must monitor your client’s condition and perform prescribed treatments. You must know when to inform health professionals about your client’s condition. You must help your clients to make decisions.

Problems can quickly arise and you will have to solve these problems. You need to know what to do and when to do it. Some of these problems will require creative solutions. Being able to creatively problem-solve is an important skill for today’s healthcare workers. Knowing the types of problems that can arise and planning for them in case they do happen will help you to deal with problems effectively.


Problem-solving requires critical thinking skills and creativity. What is a problem? What does creativity mean? What is critical thinking?

A problem is a gap or difference in what the situation now is and what you would like it to be.

Creativity is basically the production of order out of chaos. Creativity is developing new, flexible, open-minded approaches or solutions to a problem.

Critical thinking is examining and reflecting on ideas and thinking. Then judgments are made and a course of action decided upon. By combining critical thinking and problem solving, the problem is identified, information is gathered, beliefs and ideas are challenged, and different options are examined creatively. Asking questions is the way to build critical thinking into problem solving.


Several strategies that you can use to solve problems creatively are brainstorming, thinking hats, problem reversal, S.W.O.T., and role playing.

Brainstorming is often used by groups, but can also be used by you alone. It is used to create as many possible solutions to a problem as possible. To be effective, the ideas must not be judged or evaluated in any way as they are being developed, no matter how bizarre they seem. Wild ideas are welcomed. Ideas can build on other ideas. New ideas can be created by changing ideas already mentioned.

The more solutions that can be created, the more likely you are to find an effective one. Also, the more variety there is in the solutions, the more likely you are to find an effective one. Once all possible ideas have been created, they are considered for possible consequences. A solution is then selected.

Consider for a moment
Divide a square into 4 equal parts. How many possible ways can you think of to divide a square into 4 equal parts?

Below are 4 of the possible answers to this exercise. There are actually many different
ways to divide a square into 4 equal parts. This exercise helps to develop your creative thinking skills. It also shows that there is often more than one right answer to a problem.

Thinking hats
Thinking hats can also be used in groups, or by you alone. It was originally designed by Edward de Bono. It uses six colored (imaginary) hats. Each hat stands for a different way of thinking about a problem or issue. Using all of the hats will help you to consider the problem more creatively. You will be able to think about the problem from a different viewpoint than you usually take. If it is being used with a group, all members have on the same colored hat at the same time.

1. The white hat is neutral. Facts, figures, and information are examined. It helps to decide if more information is needed.

2. The red hat is for feelings, hunches, and intuition. There is no need to explain your feelings.

3. The yellow hat is for optimism and a logical, positive view of things. It looks at the benefits. It also helps during the evaluation of ideas.

4. The black hat is the logical negative. It uses caution and judgement. It does not encourage creativity. It helps during the evaluation of ideas. It is usually better to use the yellow hat before the black one, to look at the benefits first.

5. The green hat is for creative thinking and new ideas.

6. The blue hat is used to think about the problem-solving process. It ensures the process is being followed. It helps to decide what should be done next.

Problem reversal
Sometimes, you will get a different view of a problem if you look at it from the opposite direction. State the problem in reverse. Change a positive statement into a negative one. For example, if there is a problem with a co-worker and you want to improve the situation, consider what would make the situation worse.

Analyzing the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (S.W.O.T.) is another way of evaluating a problem. It can also be used when evaluating the solutions. What are the possible benefits? What strengths are present? What are the weaknesses? What new opportunities or situations can be created? How can we take advantage of these opportunities? What is the possible harm in the problem? What is the possible harm in the solution?

Role-playing helps to consider the problem from another person’s point of view. To do this, adopt the roles of other people who are involved in the problem.


1. Think before acting. Use a problem-solving process.

2. Think clearly – stay open-minded. Recognize the effects your emotions can have on your thinking. Separate facts from opinions. Look for errors in reasoning. Consider the evidence (information) – do not jump to conclusions. Don’t try to make the facts fit the solution you want to use.

3. Ask as many questions as you can. Make sure you are asking the right questions to find out what the problem really is. Find out all you can about the problem.

4. Get good ideas from everyone and from everywhere. Edward Land was taking photographs of his family on vacation. His daughter asked him, “Why do we have to wait to see the pictures?” Land thought about this and came up with the idea of instant photography and the Polaroid Camera.

5. Be selective. You cannot solve every problem. Make sure the problem is yours to solve.

6. If a problem seems to be overwhelming, break it into parts.

7. Make the best use of what you have. People often waste a lot of time and energy on “if only.” When you are solving problems, focus on what you have available and what you can change or fix. Spending time on “if only” will just waste time. Spending time and energy saying, “It wouldn’t be a problem if only we had twice as much money for equipment” does not solve the problem – especially if you know you are not going to get twice as much money. Gather the facts as they exist and develop realistic solutions.

8. Look for the opportunity in the problem. Developing creative solutions takes advantage of the opportunity in the problem. For example, a long-term institution for the elderly is looking at the possibility of having to lay-off employees. At the same time, there is a community need for daycare services for the elderly. Perhaps a creative solution would be to develop a daycare program for the elderly instead of laying the employees off.

9. Don’t wait for a problem to occur. If you can take action before a situation turns into a problem, do so.

10. Plan for problems before they occur.

11. Negotiate. Negotiation means that those involved have some of their needs met. This is usually a good strategy in problem-solving. Everybody gets something.

12. Ensure the solution fits the problem. Once the solution has been put into action, it is important to evaluate the plan to ensure the problem has actually been solved and not just hidden for a while.

13. Expect success. Believe in your ability. Work towards realistic goals rather than trying to save the world. Use your skills, time, and energy wisely.

14. Look forward, not backward. Don’t always count on strategies that worked in the past. Be curious. Have the self-confidence to try new things.

15. Although we would like to have all of our problems solved quickly, don’t expect to be able to solve every problem, especially with the first strategy used.

16. Keep your sense of humor.

17. Avoid judging during the gathering of information and development of ideas. The most important question in the creative process is “How might we…?” “We can’t because …” is a barrier to creative problem solving.

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