Translational Thinking: Patient-centric Innovation

There has been a trend over the last few years to focus on patients in healthcare.  Setting aside the evident irony of the obvious necessity of including the patient in healthcare, there are some subtleties for innovation worth considering.

The first is why?  Why focus on the patient?  There are other ways to approach innovation.  You can focus on the system or services, or products. Etc., Now many of these are by no means mutually exclusive or entirely distinct, but the approach—how you frame your problem and the space in which you are trying to problem-solve—will invariably have an influence on the processes and on your endpoints and outcomes.  The mindset with which you approach a problem will guide your thinking and help determine where you end up.  So if you start thinking about a healthcare problem from a systems perspective, you will be looking for systemic issues to solve and your interventions will likely involve changes to the system that will try to address the space you define.  This may or may not actually impact patient care. For example, a systemic change may result in significant economic savings to the system, but these benefits may not actually be seen by patients—savings may actually be converted as profit-taking or, in the case of public systems, put into other priorities of the system.

Another important nuance is the understanding that even when the “patient” is prioritized in the process—that is, placed as the subject or beneficiary of the innovation—it does not mean that the patient is the agent of the resulting intervention.  Improving patient care or the patient experience may involve other stakeholders as objects or agents of a particular innovation.  Sometimes changing what a caregiver or a clinician does is by far the best way to improve the patient experience.  The point here is that placing the patient at the center of translational thinking does not mean that patients are the only means to the desired state.  In a patient-centered approach, however, it should mean, that patients are the end beneficiaries of the innovation, that patient care or the quality of the patient experience is included as a central measure of success for the intervention.

Since the intention of Translational Thinking is, in principle, to have tangible impact on human health, prioritizing benefits for patients as an outcome measure of the innovation process is a significant frame-of-mind for approaching the process of mobilizing knowledge for social and economic benefit.