The Mayo Clinic, synonymous with world-class patient care for nearly 150 years, decided there is always room to improve the delivery and experience of healthcare services. So six years ago, Mayo launched its Center for Innovation with a mission to incubate health and healthcare innovation aimed at transforming the experience for patients.

“We’re bringing human-centered innovation and design thinking to healthcare delivery.”

“We’re bringing human-centered innovation and design thinking to healthcare delivery,” says Barbara Spurrier, administrative director of the center since its inception in June 2008.

Spurrier and Mayo have brought to the center 60 people, many with nontraditional and diverse backgrounds, whose sole purpose is discovering and implementing new ways to make healthcare better for patients and optimize health. The center’s multidisciplinary team includes designers, engineers, project managers, technologists and innovation coordinators in addition to doctors, nurses and other clinicians. Spurrier herself has undergraduate degrees in economics and English, which she later supplemented with a master’s degree in healthcare administration.

“Innovation requires people to think differently,” says Spurrier. “One of the most effective ways to do that is by bringing different people to the table.”

And quite the table it is. Located on the 16th floor of Mayo’s Gonda Building at the center of its Rochester medical campus, the center features an open office design with walls that not only are movable but can be written on when an idea strikes. Post-it notes are the center’s wallpaper.

“We think that the experimental kinds of environments and places to prototype are really important as we’re getting our teams much more comfortable with innovation and working differently,” Spurrier says. “It feels like you’re stepping into a start-up environment or tech company in Silicon Valley.”

Though located in a physical building, the center’s four platforms know no bounds limited by bricks and mortar and rest upon the philosophical foundation of “always be there for me,” which guides the direction of the center’s 60 thinkers:

  • Always be there for me…when I need to come to you (redesign of inpatient and outpatient care models)
  • Always be there for me…when you can come to me (new models connected to patients/people in their homes and communities).
  • Always be there for me…when I didn’t even know I needed you (new services to optimize health and wellness).
  • Always be there for me… (for employees) and help me understand innovation and apply it to my work (culture and competency of innovation).

“We have evolved significantly since we opened our doors six years ago,” she says. “Now we have tools and offerings for our employees and staff to think about innovation as they do their work.”

The center, its 60 innovators, and the growing culture of innovation throughout Mayo has led to a number of new products and services that are transforming the healthcare experience for patients. Among them are: an e-consult service linking remote patients and specialists; an international symposium called TRANSFORM (held each September); a bundled care and payment option for dialysis services; and combination patient exam/consultation rooms for physician offices.

Spurrier notes that innovation and a commitment to transformation requires robust partnerships. To date, 23 organizations and corporations from all sectors of the economy are partnering with the center to share, test and implement new ways of delivering and financing patient care and creating new health experiences. Among the partners are Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, Ideo, Cisco, Destination Imagination, Good Samaritan Society and Yale University.

“We try to understand user needs and then build out the services and products that meet those needs. It is about time for those of us in healthcare to deeply understand the needs of people and recognize that those needs cannot be understood from traditional methods like patient satisfaction surveys.”

Innovator Insight: Innovation requires people to think differently. One of the best ways to facilitate thinking differently is to bring people with diverse backgrounds and skill sets to your team internally and to partner externally with non-healthcare organizations.