How Do You Define Success in Healthcare Innovation?




Written by Nitya Chandiramani


The word success evokes a variety of images, conjures a diverse range of definitions, and hold meanings unique to every individual. To some degree, people are socialized to think of success as a linear path. Typically, tangible goals are achieved at each step and materialistic rewards are obtained along the way. This process culminates in the picture perfect life that many of us would characterize as the American Dream.

While that dream provides a conventional and secure sense of accomplishment, the beauty of success is that it does not have to be confined and compressed into a neat little box. This is especially true when it comes to success in a clinical world and design. Mayo Clinic’s Center for Innovation (CFI) has an array of metrics and novel definitions that defy the traditional boundaries of success.

The clinical and design world are both important spheres in the realm of healthcare; they intersect in many ways and are polarized in others. CFI Design Strategist, Lorna Ross, delineated some of the differences between science vs. design. She discussed how in a clinical world there is a focus on quantitative metrics and absolute evidence.

The scientific process is grounded in isolating factors to test in control and experimental groups and looking for an objective difference. Whereas, design is more focused on real world impacts and is based on cause and effect. Design takes into account background factors of the subjects and looks for evidence of a pattern shift. It is about analyzing, characterizing, and assessing the value of certain changes.

Lorna summarized these distinctions when she said “science is about proving what already exists whereas design is about being inspired to create something.”

I thought that was a very refreshing insight, as from a health science student perspective we are so focused on concrete science. We fixate on tangible facts, evidence, and results as our measurements of success such that we tend to lose the element of creativity and stifle the inner designers locked in our imaginative and innovative minds.

Before we can understand the metrics of success it is important to define success itself. Service Designer, Diane Klein, defines successful design in the clinical world as either creating a new product or modifying existing services with the ultimate goal of producing something that works for the end user.

The needs of the patient are the nucleus around which designs are centered with the intention of improving the lives of the users or ensuring their situation does not deteriorate. I think the definitions and associated metrics for success in design and a clinical world presents an interesting divide from a traditional view of success. In the former, success is about something greater than the individual, a patient-centered focus, while in the latter success is on the individual level, a self-based focus.

Success is a processThe first metric for success is viewing it as a process and not a singular end-product. Lorna discussed how the process of design integrates metrics for success throughout the journey. The preliminary design is tested and tweaked along the way, prototypes are constructed, and rarely are there unexpected surprises lying dormant at the end.

As she said, it is basically the philosophy of “you don’t build a plane hoping it flies.” I think that is a valuable lesson applicable to any definition of success. It is the process of making mistakes and transforming those setbacks into small achievements which culminate into the ultimate sense of success.

Another metric for success is the magnitude of impact. When thinking of success, we imagine making a grandiose impact on society and changing the world. As budding young health science students and future healthcare professionals the cliché phrase “we want to help people” is always at the forefront of our responses.

We envision doing something great that will alter a multitude of lives. While those are noble and good goals, we tend to forget that making a difference in the life of just one individual is also a success. Designed products or services can embody one of two forms. Sometimes they can be applicable to a large volume of users or they may have an impact for a small cohort of people. Both scenarios are derivatives of success.

Another interesting perspective highlighted by Diane, is that successful designs are also measured by those involved in the team, nurses and physicians, and whether their interactions with patients are improved or impeded.

The final metric is accessibility. A successful design is one that creates or increases accessibility to users or patients. As Lorna stated, it is “making invisible things visible.” For example, she spotlighted a diabetes project where card artifacts enabled patients to customize their treatment planning. It essentially created transparency in the healthcare process to make options more accessible and less intimidating for patients.

Diane also mentioned how her husband was involved in a project titled “The First 48 Hours,” where he and his team were designing the exact instructions patients needed to follow in the first 48 hours post-discharge. This design would help reduce the sense of confusion and forgetfulness that overwhelms patients during their recovery process.

Innovation, design, and success, it is these three words that CFI embodies and these three words that resemble the future direction of healthcare.


Nitya Chandiramani

Nitya Chandiramani is currently a student at the University of Minnesota Rochester and a Writing Intern at the Center for Innovation.

















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