Creating Social Value Blog / Social Innovation

A Doctor, An Engineer, and An Entrepreneur Walk Into A Surgical Suite…

By Wiljeana Jackson Glover, Assistant Professor of Technology, Operations and Information Management at Babson College and Co-Faculty Director of the Leonard A. Schlesinger Fund for Global Healthcare Entrepreneurship.

“Most intellectual training focuses on analytical skills. Whether in literary criticism or scientific investigation, the academic mind is best at taking things apart. The complementary arts of integration are far less well developed.” ― Richard J. Borden

For the last 50+ years, global healthcare has emphasized infectious disease control and elimination in low and middle income countries. To stop the spread of HIV/AIDS, curtail malaria, or contain Zika, we became more adept at the logistics of emergency and specialized humanitarian response, deploying medical and human resources around the world. And yet the woman in labor in a rural town in India cannot be ensured a safe delivery, particularly if she needs a caesarean section. A man suffering from a heart attack in Zambia cannot be guaranteed that he will arrive to the hospital in time to get the stent that he needs to save his life.

There is growing concern that our eyes have been on healthcare “fires,” while procedures that individuals in developed countries take for granted, e.g., access to safe surgery, have been slowly smoldering with significantly less attention. Five billion people lack access to safe, affordable surgical and anesthesia care when needed. Why has such care been largely neglected? The lack of such care is not solely due to a lack of medical expertise. It is also due to inadequate transportation, power, water supply, equipment, financing, and information technology. These are not medical issues, but rather systems issues that require a fresh, integrative, and interdisciplinary view of these complexities. We argue that to solve these issues, we not only need fresh solutions, but new business models to fuel and spread those solutions.

Thus, the Schlesinger Fund for Global Healthcare Entrepreneurship at Babson College exists to (1) improve existing healthcare organizations & processes, (2) create new organizations and processes, and (3) improve how organizations keep all stakeholders healthy in partnership with other major organizations in the global health space. Our view of global healthcare entrepreneurship utilizes strategic, process-oriented, social, technological, and political lenses to meet these aims.

 Our upcoming Global Surgery Hack-A-Thon August 26-28, 2016 in partnership with CAMTech and Mbarara University of Science and Technology in Uganda puts our integrative view of problem-solving to the test. Our Babson business students will be working with medical professionals, engineers, and others to tackle a variety of global surgery issues. The most promising ideas will be incubated to become ventures that will ideally do business with Ugandan hospitals in the future. The partnership also furthers Babson’s commitment to Entrepreneurial Thought and Action® and SEERS, showcasing our act-learn-build framework and commitment to social and economic responsibility in a new global service setting.

There are three key concepts that our participants as well as other global health experts will leverage as they address major problems:

Opportunities at the Edges: Getting past our disciplinary boundaries in language and intent within 48 hours will be a challenge for the hack-a-thon teams. As design thinking teaches, empathizing with the end user, deep observation, and listening practices will help teams achieve mutual respect faster so that they can find the opportunities at the edges or intersections of their disciplines to create solutions that the world needs. “Opportunities at the edges” may also apply to looking right before a patient enters the surgical suite or immediately after surgery: what are the support systems around the actual surgery that may be improved to achieve better outcomes?

Delays Equals Denial: The team challenge proposed by Babson for the Hack-A-Thon asks teams to address the three delays that significantly impact accessibility and availability of surgical care as described in the Lancet Commission Report Global Surgery 2030: the delay in seeking care, the delay in reaching care, and the delay in receiving care. While these waits may seem inconsequential, such delays can actually result in a patient never getting the care that he/she needs. How can innovators address such delays in their product and service design?

Multiple Stakeholders, Multiple Perspectives: We must account for the perspectives of patients, providers, and payers. Not only will there be diverse views between these groups but also within these groups. For example, private payers (NGOs or private insurers) may have different views on a particular healthcare innovation than a governmental ministry of health. It is important for our participants to keep these different stakeholders’ perspectives in mind, particularly while pitching their final solutions and growing their businesses. But by working on cross-functional teams, the practice of holding potentially contradictory views simultaneously will be familiar to them and they can leverage this with future clients and investors.

So what happens when a doctor, an engineer, and an entrepreneur walk into a surgical suite in Mbarara, Uganda? Much more than would have ever happened had they walked in alone.