Innovating Healthcare Services

Ryan Armbruster, director of operations and design at the Mayo Clinic, was our guest speaker today in Service Design class. He was here to discuss a new initiative at Mayo called SPARC that's about designing healthcare services.

Healthcare has basically been delivered the same way for the last 50 years with little changes; there's very few industries you can say that about. Amazingly, more than 50% of patient satisfaction about healthcare comes through the delivery of that care, not necessarily how effective it was.

SPARC is a program to design better healthcare. It's a program to provide live-environment (read: real patients, real doctors) exploration and experimentation for the development of innovations in healthcare delivery. It's also an attempt to fuse design techniques with scientific rigor. All of the solutions SPARC comes up with need to be measured in some manner.

Started about three years ago, SPARC is both a physical space (a laboratory, although it's never called that, especially around patients), and a methodology. SPARC stands for See (user research, context, stories) Plan (translate stories into opportunities, brainstorming) Act (rapid prototyping) Refine (feedback from the prototypes) and Communicate (disseminate knowledge). SPARC's space was created for doing all these steps. It's embedded within a clinical practice inside the hospital. Modular furniture and movable walls allow for lots of flexibility. It was designed with the Wow Factor in mind; they like it when people say, "I didn't believe the Mayo Clinic could do things like this." It's staffed with people willing to accommodate and execute prototypes, which is very rare in medicine. The staff is mainly a blend of physicians and business professionals, with only a small number of people called designers there. The designers act more as facilitators than as traditional designers. "Design" here is about connecting the needs (especially the latent needs) of the patients with the resources of the Mayo Clinic. It's in the latent needs where true innovation lies.

SPARC isn't about the vision of the future. There are lots of initiatives around "the operating room of the future," but SPARC isn't one of them. It's not concerned with long-term vision; it's a learning lab environment. When something works, they ship it out like any traditional product release. This is how they create value--for patients and for the hospital.

Originally posted on Monday, April 11, 2005

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