Patients And Process Inform Tech

(Image: Philips)

A short time ago, reports of bad images on some of its MRI machines was worrisome to Philips. Like airplanes, MRIs get cost-effective the more hours they’re used, so rescans cut into its customers’ profitability.

Was there a bug in the equipment, or had user needs outgrown the tech? No, it turns out that patient anxiety was impeding uptake of contrast fluids, by literally pushing them into the wrong organs. MRI operators were very aware of their patients’ worries, but nobody had bothered to ask them before.

Sean Carney, Chief Design Officer at Philips, described what came next:

“We extended our imaging suite into a pre-treatment room, then found a film director capable of creating the most boring 20-minute movie that wouldn’t put patients to sleep.”

“There was a technology solution to invent, but the actual innovation arose from our focus on the patient experience, and then the co-creation between experience designers, clinical researchers, psychologists and, perhaps most importantly, the MRI operators.”

It’s this all but proprietary access to an installed base of medical equipment, and exposure to the people and processes around it, that differentiates Philips’ innovation.

That’s not to suggest that the company isn’t focused on novel technology. It is constantly inventing new qualities and capabilities for its imaging, diagnostics, and patient monitoring systems, whether at its design headquarter in Eindhoven, or at one of its satellite offices around the world. The company also recently announced a collaboration with MIT to develop innovative healthtech solutions, as well as digital connected lighting systems.

“But it’s no use having breakthrough thinking if we don’t make things,” said Carney.

“While any company can create a new technology that should work on paper, our unique capability is to discover if, and then how, it will work in practice.”

Carney noted that he inputs deals into a sales pipeline, as if to add an exclamation point.

The way it works is through Philips’ deep footprint in so many hospitals, clinics, and doctor offices, which allows it to define innovation needs both from top-down engagement with industry leaders, and also bottom-up, in collaboration with clinicians and the people running day-to-day operations.

Its methodology includes something called “multi-stakeholder maps,” which help everyone visualize the processes into which its products are embedded and, thereby, discover not just opportunities to innovate, but what an innovation might need in terms of change management in order to succeed.

“The a-ha moments are less about specific technologies, and more about people seeing ways to enable better clinician and physician decisions, which can innovate entire systems, whilst improving the patient experience and therefore outcomes,” said Carney.

Philips’ approach is particularly well suited to seemingly intractable challenges, like cancer, which exhibit maddeningly circuitous diagnostic pathologies. It’s also a competitive advantage, since few other companies, especially tech startups that don’t rely on it, or have the existing customer relationships in which to implement it.

It also yields numerous operational benefits: Philips filed 1,680 filed in 2014, and is the second largest filer this year at the European Patent Office, it regularly scoops up hundreds of awards in global design competitions (which is a great recruiting tool), and hosts 60+ thought-leader workshops around the world, which allows it to stay on the cutting-edge of both care delivery needs and opportunities.

“The innovation challenge is immense, and we are pursuing a variety of ways to meet it,” Carney added. “While some devices can take years to build, digital solutions can come much faster, so we’re actively engaging with various communities on ways to innovate everything from neonatal intensive care, to later-in-life tumors, and the business models that surround those experiences.”

“The reason I like working here is because our mission is to save and improve lives. I don’t do that if our innovation doesn’t move from breakthrough thinking, to breakthrough doing.”