Innovation at the front lines of healthcare

Innovation Chalkboard - Missy SchmidtBlog post by AJ Montpetit

Fostering innovation is a primary focus for most organizations but especially those in healthcare. One of the best sources for new healthcare innovations is front-line staff – the proverbial boots-on-the-ground employees. However, in order to tap into their creativity, organizations need to find ways to provide employees with “thinking time” — a critical component to enable creative thinking — empowering employees to work on projects they are passionate about outside of their normal work time.

Innovation in health care has never been more important. However, in health care, where days are carved up into time slots with patients and appointments, “free” time is hard to come by. Time literally equals money. In 2009, the Mayo Center for Innovation created CoDE (COnnect Design Enable) funding opportunities — an annual internal grant program designed to fuel innovation that gives all Mayo employees opportunities to apply for funding to pursue project ideas they have developed.

By setting specific parameters for funding applications — such as placing completion timelines, working with center design teams, having physician proponents and a representational team from many sites — the team has watched these funding dollars grow into successful new models for delivering care. Often, the funds granted are used to purchase resources and people’s time, such as developers, project managers and designers to help their visions become pilots to prototype.

This week on #hcldr three of the CoDE recipients will be joining to chat about innovation in healthcare: Thomas Belda, Tammy Vos-Draper, and Tracy Harrison.

Thomas Belda

Thom BeldaThomas Belda (@tbelda) is from the Simulation Center at Mayo Clinic, and his project was the Mayo Clinical Medical Simulation Suit – Simulation Training Platform. A recent and opportune collaboration with the Google Glass Explorer Program will allow a standardized patient to don a simulation suit as well as glasses designed for point of view recording. After the simulated medical crisis, the learner will be able to relive the entire event, including his own reactions and facial expressions, exactly the way the patient experienced it.

Another application being explored is “augmented reality” which will simulate x-ray vision for the learner: displaying, for instance, what is happening through layers of skin or through the chest wall during the entire episode. Although Belda asserts the simulation suit is not intended to replace other tools currently being used in the Simulation Center, he is gratified with the reception it is already receiving. He says, “We’ve tested this concept, and there’s a lot of interest in supporting our vision and bringing it to commercial light. We really see this as being disruptive education, presenting a whole new paradigm to the way we educate local health care well as providers outside.”

Tammy Vos-Draper

Tammy Vos-Draper (@vosdraper) works in the mayo Clinic department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, and her project was the Wireless Interface Pressure Mapping System for Wheelchairs. Vos-Draper recruited a multidisciplinary team to craft a working prototype of a wireless pressure mapping system with Web-based software that utilized a smartphone to view data in a home setting. The resulting Wireless Interface Pressure Mapping project was an example of innovation emerging from an immediate patient need.

Wheelchair SeatingThe prototype adapts an existing mat, which includes a patented stretchable, water resistant material and sensors to create a pressure map. The mat is placed between the user and wheelchair cushion. The mat links with an app that allows patients to identify hot spots before they become pressure ulcers. In the prototype, opening the app permits seated patients to observe real-time pressure map data on their smartphones.

Patients can record their pressure maps, allowing them to view a week’s worth of maps that can indicate high-pressure spots. Empowering patients with this data encourages them to more accurately perform off-loading, a two-minute body shift that allows enough re-circulation to the skin to prevent a pressure ulcer.

Tracy Harrison, MD

Tracy HarrisonTracy Harrison, M.D. (@harrisontracy1) is the Medical Director for the Pediatric Pain Clinic at Mayo Clinic, and her project was the Pain Coach App: Improving the Pediatric Pain Clinic Using an Innovating eSolution for Chronic Pain. The Pediatric Pain Clinic (PPC) s utilized the same model of patient care since it started in 2000. It is an expensive clinic requiring three consultant-level practitioners to devote 4-8 hours each to assess and treat only 4 patients. A Pain Coach App could improve the quality of care, reduce clinic expenses and increase access, and provide an effective, mobile treatment option for patients after they leave Mayo Clinic.

When chronic pain patients come to the PPC, they are often seeking solutions for their pain, but most patients will not find a surgical intervention or medication that will leave them pain-free. Patients are educated about the nature of chronic pain and rehabilitation approaches that will enable them to be more functional despite their pain. Many patients today learn and engage more with content delivered through alternative formats. The Pain Coach App would improve the quality of care in the clinic, reduce clinic expenses and increase access, and provide an effective, mobile treatment option for patients after they leave Mayo Clinic.

Please join us on Tuesday February 17th at 8:30pm ET (for your local time click here) for the weekly #hcldr tweetchat on the topic of spurring innovation in healthcare.


  • T1 Biggest barrier to innovation in healthcare (esp from front-line staff, MDs & nurses) & how to overcome?
  • T2 What is more valuable the innovation itself or the process/journey of turning the idea into reality?
  • T3 What do innovation programs, like CoDE need to include to spur innovation? Reward? Time? Resources?
  • T4 What areas of healthcare would you like to see more innovation happen?


“Why Innovation Thrives at the Mayo Clinic”, Uri Neren, Harvard Business Review, August 16 2010,, accessed February 14 2015

“Driving Front Line Innovation In Health Care”, David Duncan, Harvard Business Review, April 15 2013,, accessed February 14 2015

“How Front-Line Innovation Can Help Cure Healthcare”, David Duncan, Innosight, May 2013,, accessed February 14 2015

“Time to unleash frontline innovation – Unlocking the ideas of frontline staff in the NHS can play a major role in building a new culture of care”, The Guardian, May 9 2013,, accessed February 14 2015

“Hacking Health: Bottom-up Innovation for Healthcare”, Jeeshan Chowdhury, Technology Innovation Management Review, July 2012,, accessed February 14 2015

“Encouraging Innovation”, Herb Smaltz and Scott Holbrook, HIMSS,, accessed February 14 2015

“Chief Innovation Officer Of $9B Healthcare Company Reveals Transformation Secrets”, Larry Myler, Forbers, June 9 2014,, accessed February 14 2015

Image Credit

Innovation Chalkboard – Missy Schmidt


  1. Reblogged this on HealthcareVistas – by Joseph Babaian and commented:

    Tonight on #hcldr, we talk about Innovation at the Front Lines of Healthcare. Joining us are three Mayo Center for Innovation @MayoInnovation CoDE (COnnect Design Enable) recipients: Thomas Belda (@tbelda) from the Simulation Center at Mayo Clinic, Tammy Vos-Draper (@vosdraper) from the Mayo Clinic department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, and Tracy Harrison, M.D. (@harrisontracy1) the Medical Director for the Pediatric Pain Clinic at Mayo Clinic. Please stop by at 8:30pm Eastern for this special conversation!

  2. […] at the Front Lines of Healthcare”, AJ Montpetit, HCLDR, February 15 2015,, accessed February 19 […]

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