Blog: Hospital immersion makes Biodesign unique

Biodesign project follows an iterative user-centered development process aiming at a viable, scalable business. As the first step, Biodesign concept includes one particularly interesting process: the so-called hospital immersion. During immersion, the multidisciplinary team spends a month in a hospital, systematically hunting for unmet needs in healthcare.

We spent one month, April 2018, in the HUS (Hospital district Helsinki and Uusimaa) Neurology clinic, units and wards located in Meilahti Tower, Meilahti Triangle and Laakso Hospitals. There we looked at the processes, people, devices, environment and whatever interested any of us, the Biodesign Finland team members.

When starting the immersion, I was not familiar with the hospital environment, never worked there before, and very seldom visited as a patient or as the loved one. Therefore, everything in our immersion was really exciting and exotic. That is, I would say, a pretty good setup to look everything open-mindedly, with a fresh eye.

Our inter-disciplinary team recorded around 400 observations. They were small headaches and big pains, local and global, wide and niche, of all stages in the hierarchy. We categorized them roughly, and got classes, like processes, communication, medical devices, interior&furniture, patient care, R&D, and culture.

Identifying needs requires understanding

The goal of the Biodesign innovation process is to find an unmet need that can be solved with a health technology that could be commercialized. In addition, the path towards that goal can be significant. For me, the process of immersion was important. It is not just that we went to the clinic and made some observations. We learned, developed as observers, and got more understanding during this time. Many of our first observations were simple and obvious. The observations became deeper with time, as we got familiar with the hospital environment, got to know the employees, processes, devices, culture and history behind.  

Our questions refined as we saw many side of the problem, from more than one point of view. I feel important that the people we met, doctors, nurses, therapists, other professionals, patients, usually reacted positively on us. I felt that our team not only collected observations, but also brought hope. Hope, that something will change, that development is possible. Development and innovations do not depend only on problem spotting and idea shooting. It is important to see what is good and support that as well. Just to give our time to listen to people, being interested in their work and their feelings and concerns, was valuable. No wonder, some of our observations concerned the importance of taking people into account, not only processes, technology and financing.

After immersion it is not difficult to see problems. To identify the need behind that no-good is not simple or obvious: what a person tells you and how you understand it, what you see and how do you interpret it. A systematic process with time and hard work are needed for to surely understand the need behind the phenomenon. Working in Biodesign gave me the tools and processes for finding the need behind the problems and inconveniences. One tool was to construct systematically “a need statement” – or many – out of the observation made during immersion.

Immersion is just a start on Biodesign journey

After immersion, we analyzed our observations and spent time to identify the needs behind the observations. We picked up those needs that our team found interesting and saw potential for commercialization. Turning our full attention to the needs and further analyzed them, we determined some half a dozen needs that we investigated further and validated during May-August. We chose one of the validated concepts for further development, to proceed with the next steps of innovation to a viable, scalable business.

Elina Palovuori, MSc (Tech)

The Author is a Biodesign Innovation Fellow of the 2018 project and an expert of wearable electronics.