I just finished reading the New York Times article “U.S. Reports a New Low in Deaths of Infants” by Sabrina Tavernise. At first I was happy to see this news, and felt a glimmer of hope that our valiant efforts to address this borderline embarrassing statistic for the U.S. have produced some results. But after reflecting and reading more deeply into the embedded links, I began to feel frustrated. I could sense my business model innovation antenna extending up, capturing the unseen or unrevealed reality of this and other healthcare crises, and spurring my need to transmit some thoughts.

Here’s the deal: The article accurately points out the statistics. The author thoroughly recounts the potential causal relationship between this decline and the many efforts that have been made to create positive change. I emphasize potential because I was struck by the number of times she needed to mention that the connection is largely inconclusive, most likely because the problem is so big compared to the small attempts to address it.

The problem is that all of these efforts are Band-Aids over a deeper underlying healthcare challenge — one that many people either don’t see, or aren’t sure how to address.

None of the solutions mentioned in the Times article take into consideration that perhaps there is a much deeper, system-level change that needs to happen in healthcare: a business model transformation. We need a change that is rooted in human-centered design. We need to stop looking simply at the symptoms of healthcare system challenges, such as infant mortality and pre-term birth. We need to fundamentally reimaginine how we create, deliver, and capture value for children, families, and the aging population.

I don’t know the answer, because there is not just one. But what I do know is that we won’t solve it by thinking like institutions. We need to think like designers. Institutions like the federal government are not equipped to understand social system challenges at the end-user level, so they do what they do best: budget money to help well-intentioned organizations tweak the existing business models to help bandage some of the problems. But to create transformational change in healthcare that is sustainable and scalable, we will need more than Band-Aids.

Before my email lights up with hate mail from every hardworking social venture getting federal monies to do the amazing work they do — there is NOTHING wrong with that. It’s wonderful, and it’s clearly working on some level.

But these Band-Aids aren’t enough. It should not be left only to small, underfunded community workers to bear the heavy burden of the hand-to-hand combat that it sometimes takes to tackle these complex issues. We simply must take the time to look at our heavily resourced, highly capable large institutions and discard the paradigms about how they “should work” or “always have worked." Only then can we begin to imagine how their capabilities might be reorganized to deliver entirely new value. In this way, we could increase our firepower for serious healthcare issues a hundredfold.

Sounds easier than it is, I know. But it is digestible and within reach if we simply approach our business models as designers would:

  • Explore: Deeply understand the end user experience, and search for inspiration from parallel sources (other industries, other business models).
  • Reflect: Synthesize learnings into concrete wants, needs, or “jobs-to-be-done”  —  the “job” our patients need us to do.
  • Imagine: Co-create new models WITH our end users, not FOR them, to ensure we incorporate their perspective.
  • Play: Test our ideas in the real world, without fear of failure  —  it’s how we learn.
  • Transform: Share our learnings with powerful storytelling, connecting with others to build, strengthen, and scale our efforts.

We must do something about our business models in healthcare. We must think like designers in order to create entirely new approaches for our large institutions. If we continue to just throw tweaks at the system, we may see short-term changes. But tweaks will not truly address issues that will only continue to pressure on the system and drive our healthcare costs further north. Ultimately, this approach will create a chain reaction, shifting problems that will inevitably pop up somewhere else in the system.

I recently watched the new Star Wars Episode 7. While I had Star Wars on my mind, I remembered that Yoda always has reminded us that sometimes we must “unlearn what we have learned." This has never been more true than in healthcare today. We only know one business model, and it is failing us. But, as Yoda says: “Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future”.

Time to stop bandaging up our old and tired healthcare business models and start experimenting with future models.

Leigh Anne Cappello is the Director of the Patient Experience Lab at the Business Innovation Factory.

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