Explore our Topics:

Problem definition as a key to healthcare innovation

Poor problem definition often leads to misaligned digital health innovations and solutions that address the wrong problem and waste resources.
By admin
Jul 5, 2023, 7:47 AM

Steve Blank got a lot of attention with his famous Tweet about two key pillars of business success: “Execution pays your Salary; Innovation pays your Pension.” Yet, the path to breakthrough solutions is often littered with missteps and missed opportunities. Why? One piece of the puzzle may be the art of problem definition.

Well-defined problems set the stage for game-changing solutions. However, as Dwayne Spradlin wrote in Harvard Business Review, many organizations are not rigorous enough in defining the problems they aim to solve, leading to misaligned innovation initiatives that tackle the wrong problems, wasting resources and missing opportunities.

This issue underscores the significance of Clayton Christensen’s Jobs to Be Done theory, which takes as foundational the idea that to create offerings that people truly want to buy, firms need to identify the ‘job’ the customer is trying to get done. This is not simply about function; it also implies powerful social and emotional dimensions, underscoring the idea that the circumstances in which customers try to accomplish their intended goals are more critical than any buyer characteristics. Christensen’s famous story about why people “hire a milkshake” memorably illustrates this principle.

But how does this apply to healthcare efficiency innovation and quality improvement? Recent experiences in the healthcare sector underscore the power of problem definition and focusing on jobs to be done. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, healthcare organizations were forced to rethink their operations, prompting rapid innovations that saved lives and improved outcomes across the healthcare sector, with major impact that continues to ripple into the present.

Digital acceleration played a significant role, with providers rapidly scaling offerings and seeing 50 to 175 times the number of patients via telehealth compared to before the pandemic. This digital transformation extended to patient engagement and clinical trials, demonstrating how the sector could adapt to address a new ‘job’ those patients needed to be done: remote healthcare options that prevented unnecessary potential exposure to disease.

Organizations also had to evolve their business models to address new delivery constraints and client expectations. This evolution was aligned with the jobs to be done concept, as healthcare players had to develop innovative business models to address poorly performed jobs in customers’ lives.

The ability to accelerate innovations at break-neck speeds also emerged as a key capability driven by the urgency of a world health crisis. The rapid development, testing and deployment of new vaccines, new designs of personal protective equipment (PPE), and innovative hospital ventilator exhaust routing are all outcomes of this crisis-fueled moonshot effort. Notably, the embrace of a computer development-style “beta” mindset and ‘soft launch’ models to release test versions based on user feedback demonstrated how innovation can be accelerated by focusing on real-time problem-solving.

In the pandemic and into the future, it’s clear that defining the right problems and focusing on the “jobs” that need to be done will be key to driving innovation, especially in the realm of healthcare efficiency and quality improvement. By embracing this mindset, healthcare organizations can ensure they are tackling the right problems and delivering solutions that truly meet the needs of their patients, clinicians and stakeholders.

Show Your Support


Newsletter Logo

Subscribe to our topic-centric newsletters to get the latest insights delivered to your inbox weekly.

Enter your information below

By submitting this form, you are agreeing to DHI’s Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.