In this blog, Dr Clare Beddoes, from the healthcare innovation group at CDP, considers the benefits of working in cross-sector, multidisciplinary teams to drive successful innovation in an evolving healthcare sector.
Innovation is essentially a problem-generating (finding unmet needs) and problem-solving (generating solutions) end-to-end process. But what is front-end innovation (FEI) and how should it be applied to healthcare? Is it an art or a science? A discipline for designers, scientists, clinicians, insights experts, engineers or regulatory experts? Is it forwards looking or backwards looking? Is it driven by market needs, trends, regulations, economies or healthcare budgets and ecosystems?
It can, of course, be argued that it is (and should be) all those things – and more; innovation success typically lies at the intersection of human need, appropriate enabling technology, and a business model that can deliver the value proposition. User insight, or in complex ecosystems like healthcare it would be more accurate to say multi-stakeholder insight (patients, clinicians, providers, payers, policy-makers), is important throughout the process, and crucial at this front-end stage, as it clearly defines the problem and ensures all stakeholders are considered when developing the solutions.
So, what now?
The front-end innovation stage can be fraught with risk. Any disconnect between primary user insight, and technology and commercialisation strategies may miss a critical piece of the jigsaw; however, this risk can be managed. Systematically-gathered evidence can be turned into thorough requirement specifications, winning value propositions, and intuitive product and service experiences – the translation. Often breakthrough experiences and market disruptions are seeded from evidence and insight outside of the traditional domain of enquiry, through an unexpected insight or technology adjacency, leaving us in no doubt that no-one can innovate effectively inside a bubble.
The global healthcare industry is facing many, often competing pressures and demands and, as a result, many traditional healthcare providers are increasingly aware that they must become expert omnichannel providers, providing seamless access, ‘anywhere, anytime’, to products and services; a trend led by consumer markets. This blurring of the boundary between traditional healthcare and adjacent sectors, such as Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) often through the digital medium, is becoming ever more apparent.
No one can innovate successfully without multi-channel thinking and action to manage the intimate product-service relationship. With strong trends towards the democratisation and consumerisation of healthcare, DNA sequencing is a prime example where a previously specialist, expensive and time-consuming lab discipline, has witnessed a rapid decline in the cost, and with it, a move to a readily accessible direct-to-consumer genome sequencing service. This has provided the commercial opportunity to meet stakeholder (consumer) needs; whether that be emotional - to understand and connect with their past (as evidenced by the link up of sequencing and genealogy services) or a desire to be more aware of disease risk factors – or both. Such pace of change brings its own challenges and it’s not yet clear how healthcare providers will (or should) use the data these new services are generating to meet a range of possible tensions and benefits, and improve patient care and wider healthcare policy.
Digital products and services and artificial intelligence (AI) using data analytics is also having a major impact on healthcare economic modelling, as well as solutions - from the development of AI applications in triage of diagnostic scans/tests, through to development of connected patient-use devices, Apps and online peer support groups. But again, applying technology blindly, without truly understanding what needs to be achieved (and what legal and ethical obligations must be met), by who and why, risks missing the ‘So, what now?’ again.
Cross-fertilisation of insights and technologies from consumer to healthcare markets makes it essential to utilise a multi-disciplinary perspective, and the flow of benefit goes both ways; Coca-Cola’s Freestyle drinks machine leveraged precision micro-dosing technology from the medical devices sector to deliver a breakthrough experience of more than 100 flavour choices in a suitably small vending machine footprint. Drawing on skills of, for example; scientists, ex-clinicians, engineers, product designers and insights researchers, provides the ability to gain a true 360-degree view of the problem. Only this way can you monitor, assess and map the trends which will define global market futures, truly understand needs of all stakeholder groups, and develop a strategy to meet those needs, whilst successfully meeting business innovation and growth objectives.
The ultimate goal is to identify the innovation ‘sweet spot’ at the FEI stage – critically before investing too much. The healthcare industry must develop a truly multi-disciplinary mindset if it is to keep pace with rapidly evolving requirements, and fully leverage the available opportunities - drawing stimulus and expertise from other fields and sectors to help optimise the innovation specification; in the words of the pioneering science fiction writer, William Gibson, ‘the future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed’.