Getting a fresh perspective on health care challenges

As OSF Innovation, through the work of the Complex Solutions Innovation (CSI) team, works to address the challenges that negatively impact the health of the rural, elderly and poor populations OSF HealthCare serves, it’s leveraging a variety of resources. This includes engaging local health care leaders, Mission Partners and members of local communities. This unique method of community-based innovation, taking place in Peoria, Pontiac and Monmouth, allows OSF HealthCare to better understand the issues preventing individuals from being healthy, solve for them and ultimately create healthier communities.

While many solutions will likely come from internal and external innovation, invention and ongoing partnerships — CSI is also welcoming the ideas of undergraduate and graduate college students, led by faculty, through a partnership with the University of Illinois Chicago Innovation Center and Discovery Partners Institute (DPI), an interdisciplinary research hub led by the University of Illinois System to foster economic development through innovation.

The faculty and students helping OSF Innovation develop innovative health care solutions come from a variety of education programs including industrial and mechanical engineering, graphic and industrial design, marketing and public health and are expected to bring a fresh perspective to health care challenges, and design solutions we have never thought of before.

Leading the students are Robert Zolna, Clinical Associate Professor of Design Research at UIC and Michael Scott, Associate Professor of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering UIC. Both discuss the potential these young minds bring.

Q: What challenges will you be helping OSF HealthCare solve?

Michael: We worked with OSF HealthCare to develop a set of problem statements that not only will be valuable to the communities you are serving, but are of interest to the students who’ve selected to be part of this endeavor. One group is being charged with creating new ways to address social isolation through the promotion of connectivity between patients and their communities, families, clinicians and health care facilities. Another class will ideate around bringing the community health worker concept into the 21st century, making them precision-guided and digitally enabled in an effort to deliver care where and when people need it. These groups will have a full year to define problems and develop potential solutions—all while working with OSF HealthCare along the way.

Q: Why do you think students wanted to get involved with this effort?

Robert: While some of our undergraduate designers and engineers have selected this course as their senior design class, students in public health, marketing and at the graduate level specifically sought this project with OSF HealthCare. Our graduate students have the opportunity to choose from a variety of projects with our other industry partners, but they’ve chosen to work with OSF HealthCare because they believe they can make a positive impact for its patients and hopefully, the industry as a whole. They are here because of their passion.

Q: How do these courses work?

Michael: We meet once a week for 30 weeks. Students are put into teams that represent all of their respective disciplines. While members of these teams are expected to do individual work, they spend a majority of their time working together in a collaborative manner with periodic check-ins from OSF HealthCare. The progress of the class is framed by progress towards the problem statements we are working on. Curriculum is framed by our needs to teach students how to manage an innovation process, so they can apply that in their professional life. We are not competitive in the way we teach or learn. We encourage and reinforce the sharing of progress on a regular basis. We tell all teams that if they have a brilliant idea and another team steals it and makes good use of it, they both get rewarded.

Q: What is the value to students working with OSF HealthCare on this project?

Michael: Our students will get the chance to learn how the forward-thinking innovation process works, apply it and learn how to communicate directly with people who already do this type of work. As this course progresses, we expect them to understand innovation and the idea of user research, changing insight into a concept and then refining that concept through prototyping into a full-fledged implementable solution. This is the best real-world experience we can give our students outside of sending them to a real job. There is also no question that when students have this course as part of their resume, it is attractive to recruiters and companies they want to work with.

Q: What value do these students bring to OSF HealthCare?

Robert: Most of our students have yet to experience the health care system environment, so they are unbiased and are more apt to come up with ideas that health care leaders would never consider on their own. It’s my hope that our set of creators impress you with the concepts they come up with and explore avenues we haven’t thought about or that we take for granted.

Perspective from CSI leader

“The problems these faculty and students are taking on are well-known throughout the health care industry, but there has yet to be a system that’s been able to address them for our most vulnerable populations with a sustainable solution we can expand across our Ministry,” said Sarah de Ramirez, MD, Chief Medical Officer and Vice President of Clinical Innovation at OSF Innovation. “We hope that getting the perspective of bright, excited and diverse minds outside of health care will lead to new solutions that will help us achieve equitable health outcomes for all of our patients.”

The faculty and students from the U of I system will be working on health care solutions throughout the end of the school year.