[Event Debrief] January 2017: Trickle-up Healthcare Innovation

[Event Debrief] January 2017: Trickle-up Healthcare Innovation

By Emily Genco



Necessity is the mother of invention, as the saying goes, and necessity certainly isn’t limited to developed nations. On Monday, over 60 members gathered at the Spyder Trap meeting space to hear five expert practitioners share how some of the most meaningful healthcare innovation can grow from the ground up, pulling inspiration from people and groups operating in resource-constrained environments.

Speakers included:

  • Dr. Simone Ahuja — Author of “Jugaad Innovation: Think Frugal, Be Flexible, Generate Breakthrough Growth”
  • Rafael Vasconcellos — SVP Medical Affairs, UnitedHealth Group
  • Heather Howard — Health Technical Advisor, American Refugee Committee
  • Jeremy Newhouse — VP Operations, Matter
  • Emily Anthony — Program Director, Heart Failure Division, Medtronic

The deep dive focused on addressing three questions:

  1. Who are we solving problems for in healthcare?
  2. How can we increase accessibility?
  3. What can we learn from emerging markets?


Embracing Jugaad Innovation

In recent years the “Maker Movement” and “DIY thinking” have gained traction and prominence in current culture. Both are aligned with “Jugaad Innovation,” the subject of Dr. Ahuja’s talk.

The concept of jugaad extends beyond healthcare, but remains incredibly relevant. By Dr. Ahuja’s definition, jugaad is a flexible way to reframe problems and find solutions despite resource constraints (or in the case of healthcare, limited funding).

Dr. Ahuja shared how during her research in India, the team frequently mobilized jugaad to enable continued work or navigate around problems.

Embracing jugaad, or “frugal innovation” enables user agency and motivates practitioners to take on the mantel of problem-solving rather than waiting for large institutions to forward ideas.

Frugal innovation is defined as finding value for many, as exemplified by the creation of the Mitticool Fridge, built to help a desert village keep fresh produce cooler, longer — enabling better nutrition for the village.

Takeaway: Successful innovation isn’t defined by budget spent. Find ways to leverage existing resources and reframe the problem.


Designing Data Structure

According to speaker Rafael Vasconcellos, one of Brazil’s largest healthcare-related challenges is structuring patient data. Historically, data was stored but not organized — problematic if attempting to apply any cost-saving, predictive wellness programs.

His work posed the question: Could the data be organized allowing the narrative of patient health in the lab results to be electronically “read?”

Dr. Vasconcellos’ team used natural language processing to analyze and extract actionable content. By identifying risks in the lab results, ER admissions could be prevented, saving the system money and encouraging better health..

Takeaway: Don’t underestimate the power of technology to derive value from legacy systems or processes.


Shifting Expectation to Empowerment

Speaker Heather Howard began her talk explaining how humanitarian efforts left a problematic mindset in the Democratic Republic of Congo. After a series of humanitarian crises, refugees flooded the country and an expectation of handouts took hold.

Heather shared how the American Refugee Committee turned expectation into empowerment by founding Asili, a startup program including a health clinic, clean water distribution system and agricultural co-op.

Takeaway: Investing in healthcare isn’t enough. Groups must also invest in the education, infrastructure and governance to sustain it.


Finding Value in Partnership

Jeremy Newhouse spoke on the evolution of the Matter consulting mindset — from outcomes-focused thinking to operating in service of others as a partner.

Takeaway: Seek to collaborate, educate and partner with clients to generate sustainable solutions.


Asking the Right Questions

When speaker Emily Anthony was deployed with her team to explore heart failure in Ghana, the population instead advocated for the team to address hypertension. For her, the experience exemplified the need to create initiatives that stem from the opportunities identified by communities.

Takeaway: Ask questions to continue vetting initiatives, even after they are underway.


Thanks to Spyder Trap for hosting and to our wonderful volunteers for helping make the event happen!

Leave a Comment