A new Wave for health 

Wave for health

This week I was excited to be part of Wave for Health, an initiative by BNP Paribas to foster innovation and ingenuity within healthcare.

Doctors, entrepreneurs, designers, scientists and innovators gathered together for 24 hours at the Cite de Sciences in Paris. In small teams, we had 4 hours to get to grips with and innovate around an unknown but relatively common issue in pregnancy: intrauterine growth restriction or IUGR. The next morning, we presented our ideas (and short videos) to a panel of judges.

IUGR is an insidious and little known problem. In France 1 in 10 children are born small for their gestational age, and it is apparently the number one cause of infant mortality. The problems experienced by children with IUGR extend beyond the neonatal period, and can manifest as learning difficulties, diabetes, hypertension and obesity later in life.

The goal was to draw on what Wave identifies as ‘collective ingenuity’ – the power of small groups to find simple solutions for problems. One core principle was that of ‘Jugaad.’ Originally a Hindi term, it refers to problem-solving and innovating using meagre resources, often re-purposing what already exists. For Wave, Jugaad comprises three elements: frugality (doing more with less), agility (speed and flexibility) and inclusivity (a collaborative and participatory approach). Small teams, from many different fields, with limited resources, attempting to solve big problems.

Brainstorming sessions at Wave for health, focussing on IUGR

Its an exciting and interesting approach to solving problems in healthcare, and certainly would benefit healthcare systems across the world. Bringing experts and novices together alongside artists and scientist fosters a kind of creativity that is not seen in traditional teams. Insights are generated by novices that the expert might not have come up with in years of research.

But, with problems that have the scale and complexity that many issues in health do, I wonder whether this hi-speed hackathon is the best method.

Deeper investigation into the extent of the problem is needed, by all members of the team. Otherwise innovations either skirt around the edges of the issue, or fail to solve any problem at all.

Stanford Biodesign, a fellowship programme for MDs and PhDs takes a similar ‘design thinking’ approach to healthcare. But the one year course involves over 4 months of immersion into hospital and healthcare systems. The fellows note down over 400 different problems that they have identified through months of careful observation. And then through custom built software they assess each one for impact, economic and health burden and a number of other factors.

Eventually they boil down to one or two problems and spend the next part of the programme understanding the issue in depth and creating a solution.

Wave is in its first year, and is at the forefront of a growing movement of innovators tackling the leviathan that is healthcare. There will hopefully be many improvements on this week’s event, but what occurred was an exiting move in what i think will eventually be the right direction.