Believing in Design: Return to Mayo Transform

Oct 4, 2012, 3:46 PM, Posted by Al Shar

Albert Shar / RWJF Al Shar

How can design affect health and the delivery of care? Last year I and a group of Pioneer's guests interested in Project ECHO went to Mayo Clinic’s Center for Innovation Transform Symposium without knowing much about the conference's focus of design and innovation in health. I entered as a skeptic but left a believer. This year, Pioneer brought no guests but we did provide funding so that a number of students in the design, pre-medical, and medical professions could attend.

What do I mean by design? You might think that design doesn’t have a place in delivering innovative health care. Design is predicated on understanding the way people and the environment react to how solutions are packaged and presented. This is critical in the acceptance and ultimate success of health care solutions, and successful outcomes are an essential health care goal.

John Hockenberry, the award-winning journalist and commentator, moderated the program, as he did in 2011. Once again, he was exceptional! After each presentation he would both summarize and question the speaker in ways that illuminated and expanded on the content. There are very few people who could have done this as well as he. He was able to show the importance of understanding the nature of design in a very personal way. He demonstrated the difference in the mobility afforded to him by his own wheelchair as opposed to a standard, theoretically “one size fits all” wheelchair. As we learned, design can and often should be personal.

While I was inspired by the successes of design in health care presented throughout the conference, I was particularly intrigued by two speakers and the impact they are making on cost and quality: Rushika Fernandopulle of Iora Health and Adam Darkins from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Dr. Fernandopulle has developed and implemented a model of primary care and Dr. Darkins has taken telemedicine to a new level. Both have implemented services that improve quality and reduce costs. The striking thing to me about both of these very different innovations is that both were predicated on models where payment was independent of any specific service. It made me wonder how much our current model of funding health care inhibits the ability to innovate.

I came away from the meeting with both hope and frustration. Once the significance of design was illuminated for me, I found it sad that collaboration between design and medical professionals, with active consumer engagement, is not more common. When these come together well, it’s a beautiful thing. After this experience, my personal vision for the future of health care includes careful and deliberate strategies for care delivery, design, and a healthier world.

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This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Pioneering Ideas blog.