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Health Care Reform Passes--Now Let's Start Health Care Innovation

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on March 22, 2010

To the surprise of many, Congress passed legislation this weekend that extended US healthcare to nearly everyone in the country. Bravo. The US joins the 19th century. The next trick is to try actual innovation in health care that lowers costs and increases the healthcare experience for Americans. There is almost nothing in the bill passed that does that.

The US already spends far more on healthcare innovation than any other country. But government healthcare R&D has gone into life sciences that haven’t paid off (genome) or advanced medical procedures that are extremely expensive and help extremely few people. In terms of longevity, the US lags Europe and Asia.

US healthcare needs platform innovation that uses social media to connect people to the medical system in new, cheaper, more personal and more productive ways. Hello Health is one way to go. It’s founder, Dr. Jay Parkinson, has just launched The Future Well, a design consultancy that promises to extend the new social media model for wellbeing across the country.

US healthcare also needs the kind of demassing and decentralization that design and innovation consultants can provide. Memorial Sloan- Kettering (MSK) did workshops with students at the Parsons School for Design to come up with small, inexpensive, neighborhood chemo centers and it just completed the first in Brooklyn.

The Mayo Clinic is innovating broadly in health care.

Clayton Christensen has a great book on The Innovator’s Prescription that calls for disruptive innovation in healthcare based on new business models. This is a very important book.

Now that the US has extended healthcare to all its citizens, the next step is to cut costs and improve outcomes and experiences by harnessing the best thinking of designers and innovators. Most of the concepts and tools are already at hand.

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Reader Comments

Jeffrey Tang

March 22, 2010 07:04 PM

"US healthcare also needs the kind of demassing and decentralization that design and innovation consultants can provide."

Not sure how this fits with the idea of centralized, state-provided healthcare. If innovation by independent companies and individuals is the real key to progress that "lowers costs and increases the healthcare experience," what will government healthcare do but get in the way?

Why don't we skip the bill that does nothing useful ("There is almost nothing in the bill passed that does that...") and go straight to the innovation marketplace?

Paul Tarini

March 23, 2010 04:49 PM

Bruce—We couldn’t agree more. The path to improving our health and the functioning of our health care system is paved with efforts to make improvements, changes that make things better at the margin. And while many of these may have real value, the timing is right for conceiving, testing and building real innovations, not marginal improvements…changes that enable patients to relate to their providers in different ways, platforms that enable the system to understand its own data and make smarter decisions, and unconventional approaches to solve current problems. Such innovations can help set the stage for the future.
The Pioneer Portfolio of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has been focused on this space for six years now. Some examples…thinking about social media, our Project HealthDesign program is testing ways that people can collect observations of daily living that are important for their health, turn that data into knowledge for them, but also share it upstream with their providers. Through our Health Games Research Program, we’ve invested in explorations of whether digital games can be used to help people manage a condition—can a dance pad game help someone with Parkinson’s maintain their mobility and help monitor disease progression by tracking daily performance; or, can a game that uses a breathing tube as the control device help a child with cystic fibrosis do their therapy? Looking at improving outcomes and cutting costs, we’re investing in Rapid Learning systems—harnessing the data that already exists in electronic health records to rapidly advance the evidence base for clinical care.
If you’re interested in learning more, visit our site...

Steve Wunker

March 24, 2010 07:14 PM

While PPACA has only modest provisions to spur innovation, it creates enormous incentives for some stakeholders to embrace change. Many health insurers will be threatened by commoditization and must urgently create proprietary ways to collaborate with providers and physicians to improve medical outcomes, enhance patient experiences, or lower costs. This will entail new business models that use IT, bundled payments, and tight collaboration to create the sort of change that our Balkanized system has so effectively resisted. Pharma will need to use some of its PPACA-related windfall to make personalized medicine a reality, while also delivering total solutions to disease states that push the industry "beyond the pill". Physicians, facing an onslaught of 32 million new patients, will embrace innovations that improve their efficiency. PPACA creates the kind of shake-up needed to instigate some radical re-thinking of innovation agendas. I've detailed further thinking on this at

Suzann Robins

March 28, 2010 12:13 AM

Some great ideas here, and more can be found when we take a multicultural look at health care -- see for instance what Traditional Chinese Medicine has to offer, or Yoga and Ayruveda from India.
These and many more "innovations" are addressed in a new book Exploring Intimacy: Cultivating Healthy Relationships through Insight and Intution. Intimacy with your health care provider??? Yes, who else should know more about your body and mind?

Suzann Robins

March 28, 2010 12:16 AM

not sure if previous comment was lost?
Find out more about becoming your own "primary health care provider" in new book. Exploring Intimacy: Cultivating Healthy Relaitonships through Insight and Intuition available through

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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