Our Approach to Innovation

Three concepts — design thinking, implementation and dissemination science, and systems thinking — lay the groundwork for the Healthcare Innovation Lab’s methodology.

For effective innovation to occur, it’s critical to first clearly define the problem that the innovative idea is meant to solve. Next, an expansive search for new ideas to address that problem is needed, followed by the development of the idea that best matches local strengths and needs. Finally, rigorous implementation and evaluation of the innovation is essential to maximize its true value. This approach to innovation is foundational to the Healthcare Innovation Lab’s work. It is informed by the concepts of design thinking, implementation and dissemination science, and systems thinking.

Design Thinking

Design thinking is an approach to innovation that marries the user’s desires with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business strategy can convert into value.

To accomplish this, design thinking clearly defines the user’s desires and needs that require innovation (sometimes termed “inspiration”). Importantly, understanding these needs generally occurs by not only listening closely to what users say they need, but also directly observing how they act in their environment. This approach can identify needs that users may not even be aware of.

Once these needs are clearly identified, the search for solutions (sometimes called “ideation”) can occur. This search uses divergent thinking to explore potential solutions and rapid prototyping to continually refine initial ideas into a viable solution. Looking at different industries for potential solutions can often accelerate divergent thinking. Seemingly intractable issues in one industry have often already been solved in other settings, and significant breakthroughs can be achieved by using a wide-ranging approach in the search for ideas. After initial ideas are generated, then they can be converged into rough prototypes of solutions. Allowing users to interact with these prototypes can generate useful feedback that can be incorporated into revised prototypes and, eventually, a fully realized innovation.

Implementation and Dissemination Science

Once an innovation has been developed, the next step is its implementation, which the Lab approaches by applying the concepts of implementation and dissemination science. This field of science is the study of methods to promote the systematic uptake of interventions into clinical practice. Its methods include identifying and measuring the various contextual factors that either accelerate or impede the adoption of an innovation into healthcare delivery. These insights can then inform actions, such as change-management activities, that can overcome potential barriers to implementation.

Systems Thinking

Finally, systems thinking is an informative paradigm for the implementation of innovations that complements what we can learn from dissemination and implementation science. This discipline recognizes that complex systems, such as healthcare organizations, are defined not only by their structures and processes, but also by the extant interactions that occur between system elements. To meaningfully change such a system, recognizing and accounting for these interactions is critical. For example, clinical opinion leaders in healthcare systems are often crucial participants in the uptake of a new care pathway. Therefore, engaging these leaders as champions of an innovation is foundational in its success.

Similarly, culture arises from the interactions of a system, and thus has a significant impact on the implementation of an innovation. Using approaches to influence the culture, such as introducing the language and tools for change to the organization, can be an important part of successful innovation implementation.