Since its inception in 2008, the Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation has become the poster child for internal innovation practices. The Center for Innovation focuses on engaging all of the stakeholders in the healthcare system, from doctors to patients to staff, and introducing the design process as a means of taking healthcare to the next level. We had the chance to sit down with the Center for Innovation's Gerry Greaney and Molly McMahon to talk about how design is reshaping healthcare.
Core77: What is the Center for Innovation?
Gerry Greaney: We're a very interesting and diverse group with backgrounds in design, healthcare, finance, budget management, IT, and we're taking the design thinking and design research approach to try to transform the delivery experience of healthcare.
Have you seen the Center transform, along with the culture and behaviors at the Clinic?
Molly McMahon: Definitely. When we first started, we moved out of this kind of raw space in the back area that wasn't finished and that was also right inside the patient clinic hallway. Our team was split—we didn't have a dedicated space for ourselves. Then last March, we moved into to this new, open space with everyone on the same floor. Space is a [scarce] commodity and really valued at Mayo. If you're given more space, then you're worth something. It shows that the Clinic has made an investment in us as well as through the work that we've been doing.
GG: I think what's happened over the past couple of years is that more and more groups throughout Mayo have engaged with the Center and as they've done that, they've started to really understand what the value is. When you bring something like a design approach into a medical institution, it's very different than the scientific, analytical lab approach that's prominent there. It's hard to understand initially what the value of this is—until you experience it. And then once you go through that, you can see the benefit. And when that happens, more people talk about it. It's about getting a foothold.
What kinds of attitudes have you seen? When you say, "I do design and innovation," do people balk at that?
MM: I would say it's more of a slight confusion or an 'Explain more,' because as soon as you say the word 'design,' from their perspective, they're looking at it as, "Are you designing the curtains in the room or the bed? What are you trying to design around or change?" From that, I think it's more of a confusion around the term 'service design' and how it fits into how what they're doing and what we're going to provide to their services.
GG: I think there are times when people may wonder why we're needed and we have to show why we are. Maybe we go a little further to do that and to really capture the stories people tell and things we're told by patients and then translate it into something that applies to the work that needs to be done.
So why is the Center for Innovation needed?
GG: I think it's because there's only so much you can do to address the change that needs to happen in healthcare with the approaches that have been tried already. So there are certain things that you can identify through equality efforts, things that have made huge progress in improving efficiency. But there are certain things that you don't see when you look at things that way. By looking very carefully through a patient experience and trying to understand the greater context of health for patients, you start to see some opportunities that you might not see if we were only focused on purely the medical side of things, purely the care aspect.Where would you like to see the Center head? Where do you think it's headed?
MM: Something that we're trying to do through gaining the stakeholders and spreading our process, is that we're getting more people who are competent in saying that, 'Yes, I can do innovation' or 'I can speak my mind.' I would like to see it be able to spread even more than just the few departments that we have now and if it could change the culture or change the status quo. In reality, when we're out of work, that's when we've done our job.
GG: One thing to keep in mind is, as we do more within the Clinic, is we also have to make sure that we're making connections outside to other organizations and other groups who are trying to do similar things to share what we've learned and to help start that.
MM: I definitely don't think it can be siloed. We can't just be a design organization within the Clinic and not speak to the Olmstead Clinic who's right there in Rochester. Our patients don't just see us, they see a lot of people. We have to have that open communication.
Inside the Center for Innovation.
What advice can you give to health care institutions or other organizations that want to start innovating?
MM: I would say if they wanted to do something that is similar for the right reasons, it really has to start with champions, having good people to push forward with an idea even though they don't really know where it's going to go or end. Get people comfortable with ambiguity, being upfront with that. Taking risks with this and treating it almost like a startup, there's the passion and the champions behind it to keep it moving. We started with two people and slowly grew larger because it was the snowball effect.
Where do you think service design is headed?
GG: I think there's probably a huge area of opportunity. The whole value proposition of design is shifting and it used to be a lot about the thing that was produced. That was a unique capability. What went into creating that? But understanding the larger picture around that now is sometimes more important. How do you understand the context? How do you understand the behaviors? How do you understand the influences that affect services? With the approach that we bring to things, the process is maybe starting to have more value than the product, because it's revealing things that are invisible in other ways.
Dave Seliger is a Postgrad Fellow in Logistics and Ext Affairs at the NYC Office of Emergency Management. He has extensive experience helping firefighters, police officers, and disaster responders improve their services through design.