How to #Innovate for Impact? by Devmalya Sarkar @DevmalyaS

With digital technology advancing at warp speed or at the speed of startups these days, there’s probably little that health-tech and digital health innovations can’t potentially transform.

At the 2018 HITLAB Innovators Summit at IIT Delhi, I spoke on the need for innovators to focus on empathic, simple innovations that can and should have a measurable impact on overall health outcomes.

While innovation outcomes are expected to be and need to be simple in their adoption and use – both for patients as well as caregivers – innovation inherently is rarely easy!

Enter simple thought experiment (who doesn’t like that?)!

Let’s shift our focus from innovators to users/patients, for a bit. Consider the following:

User 1: The uber-aware patient, one who proactively seeks out and internalizes credible information on her/his health condition, doesn’t over/under-analyze, sensibly and responsibly leverages technology to guide or manage her/his own health (trust me, they’re not an endangered species!).

User 2: Is a self-proclaimed expert in understanding and analyzing the health conditions of self and those of others; lacks optimal understanding in the contextual usage of available information; self-medicates, borderline reckless.

Can you imagine these 2 users interacting with technology in the same way to reach a common outcome? If your answer is NO, you’ve been attentively thought-experimenting. Bravo (slow-clap)!

Moving on, let’s consider the evident variance in how each of them might interact with a simple yet effective digital health solution – say, one that could help them log health condition and history. On the surface, this seems rather simple and also holds significant potential in healthcare delivery outcomes at hospitals – by helping caregivers improve their triaging efficiency – prioritizing resources to extend care to those urgently requiring it.

Case in point

Recent pilots such as those by the Queen Mary’s Hospital, Sidcup, are attempting better triaging at Urgent Care Centres (UCCs) by urging patients to engage in #ehealth / #mhealth interactions – logging symptoms/history, precluding an unnecessary trip to the UCC.

Simple yet effective, right? Well, how effective?

Depends; for whom – user 1 or 2? Considering our little thought experiment, you foresee different outcomes here, don’t you? In this example, a visibly effective mechanism to streamline triaging could easily be trumped by the inherent variance in how different users interact with a perfectly noble-intentioned innovation. That’s just a sample size of 2! What happens when we consider a larger set of patients?

Then again, would all patients experience similar symptoms at any instantaneous point in time? No two patients are alike; not all interact identically with healthcare services.

What’s the point?

Does that mean the solution itself is ineffective? Hell no! Triaging is critical; it’s decisive! With ever-increasing demands on caregivers’ time, not to mention costs, triaging is very important in ensuring timely and efficient care delivery. There ARE many hospital visits that the solution could and should avoid. Having said that, it’s one piece of the puzzle.

So, how does a solution estimate how varied scenarios play out? Doesn’t this inherent variance throw innovation design out of whack? Probably should. And this is where design inclusiveness steps in. Put simply, it’s about having a sense of the following:

– Figuring who your users are
– Accounting for differences among users in the target group
– Making and validating contextually relevant observations; inferring observation-driven insights into how users interact with their environment
– Deep empathy for users’ needs (some wants, too)
– Distillation of those understandings into a succinctly articulated unmet or under-met need that warrants addressing.

What else?

Well, given recent advances in all things #data, this could be coupled with appropriately leveraged data-driven insights. Empathic design, fused with the power of data could lead to some pretty exciting stuff (#AI for the win, people!).

With digital technologies on one hand and structured, need-driven innovation tools on the other, innovators have quite an enviable arsenal and great power to influence change: shape newer models in care delivery and access, improve lives. And, as the saying goes, “with great power comes great responsibility”. This is particularly relevant given what innovators can and should account for – an appreciation for the user’s choices and outcomes their designs influence.

And what about users? Do they not share an accountability for how these innovations are adopted and utilized? Who decides what’s usable – the innovator or the user?

I’d say it’s a cyclical, iterative exercise involving both.

What do you think? How do you design/deliver innovation? How do you consume innovation outcomes?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

This article was first published on the Author’s LinkedIn Pulse Blog page, its been republished here with the authors’ permission. The insights shared are personal ideas shared by the author. 

Attend the 2019 HITLAB Innovators Summit: India. Register here:


Devmalya Sarkar Devmalya Sarkar is a Health Innovation Strategist and BioDesigner  and currently leads HITLAB’s (@HITLABnyc) digital health innovation and impact across India and South Asia. LinkedIn@DevmalyaSWebsite

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