Lessons from the Mayo Clinic: Can design thinking help global health delivery?

by admin on December 9, 2011

Dateline: November 2011
Location: MIT Sloan
by MIT Sloan student David Xie

Summary This essay reflects on the strength, outcome and challenges associated with the Mayo Clinic’s design thinking approach to improving healthcare delivery, and discusses the merit of applying design thinking towards improving global healthcare delivery especially in resource poor settings. The essay concludes by saying that it could be useful to funnel healthcare delivery ideas through a local design-thinking center funded by non-profit organizations. Doing so create at least three values: to provide a common/open platform for social entrepreneurship, to rule in or rule out ideas efficiently through prototyping before significant investments are made, and to build a knowledge base for a local market that benefits future similar endeavors. Challenges for such local design center include the ability to retain top talents, to respond to high number of ideas, and to engage the local market.

Innovation is not just about creating new solutions; it is also about creating new problems to begin with. The world has put a lot of emphasis on the former, but the latter could be even more important, especially for breakthrough products or services. Apple is a classic example. Steve Jobs’ biggest question is how can one produce something that is as aesthetically beautiful as a Macbook? It later transcends from a good to a great product.

Analysis of the Mayo Clinic Design Innovation Model

Mayo Clinic certainly knows that asking the right questions to begin with is the first step towards improving healthcare delivery. So they set up SPARC, with the sole purpose to explore the current ways by which patients experience healthcare. This open-mindedness allowed them to examine every step of the current workflow in an unassuming manner and pinpoint specific areas for improvement, therefore asking the right questions first.

The Mayo Clinic’s Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery is transforming the way that patients everywhere receive and experience health care. From http://mayoresearch.mayo.edu/mayo/research/science-of-health-care-delivery/index.cfm

Mayo Clinic also knows how to create a new culture that disrupts the old way of doing things. They put doctors together with designers, and hope that the creative ideas from the latter could challenge and be challenged by the people who are actually delivering the care. This paves the way for new solutions to be born.

Finally, a structured approach is used to prototype solutions and turns them into more refined products. The center for innovation at Mayo has a very specific protocol that develops potential solutions into more concrete products or put them behind. This ensures that every idea is being developed to its fullest.

Challenges facing Mayo Clinic are that the impacts are not always quantifiable, and many innovations are small changes as part of a big change. However, my view is that as Mayo becomes more efficient, it becomes just that harder to be better. I think another challenge would be to balance physicians with the need to run day-to-day duties while at the same time engage in innovative activities.


Implications for global healthcare delivery

As Kevin Starr well put in his speech, many brilliant ideas only end up being nothing other than money drain and waste of smart people’ time. So what is the proper way to address this valley of death issue? In a market where the number one challenge involves changing people’s behaviors and mindsets, I cannot argue for a better way than to use design thinking, and I think Mayo clinic has gotten the right model.

It occurs to me that many attempts to improve global health care involve a rather siloed approach. The entrepreneurs have a great idea, they probably study the market and interviewed a bunch of people to validate the ideas, and then seeks money from the non-profits/governments. The non-profits would be very happy to fund a few dozen similar attempts, but the knowledge sharing amongst them could be very little, especially considering a great percentage of them won’t probably work out.

Setting up an innovation center in a specific target geographic region helps to solve two problems: one is to allow for rapid market prototyping of different product concepts from different entrepreneurs, the other is to allow knowledge sharing take place between people to help refine ideas. The center should function as the following:

  1. Under the funding from non-profits targeting a specific unmet need in resource poor area, for example, improving poor patient compliance for anti-viral HIV drug
  2. Evaluate business plans and selectively fund early stage prototyping
  3. Use prototyping and design thinking to refine products
  4. Eventually only the most promising products will be carried into production

The idea is to kill unviable projects really early in the process by using prototyping, and validate and further develop the ones that are more likely to succeed. Testing on the spot will make sure that all the local market factors will be taken into consideration. The use of capital will be more efficient, and the system lends itself toward the establishment of guidelines, measures, protocols that standardize the incubation of great ideas. The system will also allow for the retention and transfer of knowledge from one idea to the other.

Of course, establishing a local innovation center requires capital and very talented people who can manage the process of selecting, prototyping and refining new ideas along with the entrepreneurs. Realizing that the center only has a limited capacity, it has to select a small number of ideas to work on perhaps even before prototyping starts. As more knowledge is built, it will help with such selection process (using experienced social entrepreneurs also help). All in all, I am very excited that this model could help to convert truly innovative ideas into benefits for global healthcare!


http://nexus.som.yale.edu/design-mayo/?q=node/87; IDEO website

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