Collaborative Innovation Process at Mayo Clinic

Collaborative Innovation Process at Mayo ClinicPoint: Collaboration between doctors, patients, designers and lab technicians brings healthcare delivery breakthroughs.

Story: The inspiring origins of the Mayo Clinic illustrate the timelessness of collaborative innovation. Back in the 1880s, two brothers, Will and Charles Mayo, founded the clinic with their father, Dr. William Worrall Mayo, and introduced the concept of a group practice. The Mayos sought medical breakthroughs by bringing together doctors, laboratory experts, and business people. As the younger Will Mayo said, “In order that the sick may have the benefit of advancing knowledge, a union of forces is necessary.”

Today, we have the fruits of many medical breakthroughs but need better ways to deliver the breakthroughs in efficient and effective ways. Many chronic diseases, like diabetes, can be treated but depend on more than just a one-shot procedure in a doctor’s office or hospital. For these conditions, healthcare delivery requires education and engagement between doctors and patients. The quest for new breakthroughs in healthcare delivery calls for a new round of collaborative innovation, embodied by the Mayo Clinic’s SPARC unit.

The Mayo Clinic uses SPARC to develop new services for patients. SPARC stands for See, Plan, Act, Refine, Communicate. Mayo believes in a fast prototyping approach: a crossfunctional team of doctors, industrial designers, patient education experts, facilities people and financial analysts work together to create new ideas and test them in the “Hub.” The collaboration includes some of the usual healthcare and research leaders, like Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota, University of Minnesota, MIT, Yale, and GE Healthcare. But it also attracts collaborators from industry, such as IDEO, Best Buy, Steelcase, Microsoft, and Cisco.

The Hub creates reconfigurable prototypes of patient check-in counters and examination rooms. The team that develops a new service can observe the prototypes in action through glass and via video. “We take research out of the laboratory and translate it in a very quick and meaningful way right to the patient’s bedside,” said Dr. Glen Forbes, CEO of Mayo’s Rochester, MN campus. “That takes a lot of collaboration, because you’re crossing cultures and you’re often times crossing a lot of internal organization structures and silos.”

Most crucially, the Mayo Clinic engages patients to accelerate innovation. “Our patients have a long history of participating in our research and education endeavors,” says Barbara Spurrier, Administrative Director, Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation. The Mayo uses ethnographic techniques to analyze the quality of doctor-patient interactions, survey patients for their impressions, and talk to patient’s families. Human-centered design thinking ensures that the innovations aren’t just technically correct, they deliver higher quality of life for patients.


  • Find a gap between technology and society, such as the gap between the capabilities of a technology (e.g., a medical treatment) and the delivery of that technology (e.g., a patient’s compliance)
  • Recruit collaborators from both the technology side and the people side to bridge the gap
  • Create tangible and testable examples of innovations through visualization, modeling and rapid prototyping
  • Use both hard science and soft science methods to gain both objective and subjective feedback for further innovations

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Andrea MeyerAuthor of more than 450 company case studies and contributor to 28 books, Andrea Meyer writes & ghostwrites about innovation, IT and strategy for clients like MIT, Harvard Business School, McKinsey & Co., and Forrester Research. Follow her at and

Andrea Meyer




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No Comments

  1. Scott Wagers on December 19, 2011 at 2:41 pm

    This is similar to what is referred to as “customer development” or “living labs” approach to software development. In essence it is bringing the end users view to the researchers or developers. What is perhaps more challenging is bringing the researchers or developers view to the patients. There is at least a perceived barrier when crossing cultural divides in this way – the patient’s understanding of research or the technical aspects of medicine. However, bridging the gap in that direction is likely to deliver more innovation. Once an idea is formed the chance for innovative input diminishes with each iteration. So, the earlier end users can be involved the better. The challenge is getting researchers to accept patients input in that earlier stage of idea formation, and getting the patients to believe they can contribute when the discussions are “technical”.

  2. Andrea Meyer on December 19, 2011 at 7:39 pm

    Thanks for your comment and adding the “living labs” concept, Scott. There’s an interesting set of slides on the living labs approach in Europe at:

    • Scott Wagers on December 20, 2011 at 3:45 am

      Great set of slides. “Living Labs” are a budding interest of mine especially since we are working on a project where we are building a virtual multi-scale human lung for use in research, clinical management, and drug development that can be patient specific. We are planning to use the Living Labs concept to keep the end user, clinicians, researchers, phramaceutical companies, involved in the development. Otherwise we may end up modelling an irrelevant aspect.

  3. Andrea Meyer on December 20, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    How exciting that you’re a living lab of the living labs concept! A virtual multi-scale lung for research and patient-specific drug development sounds very exciting (and challenging). It’s great to hear about the input from all different parties that you’re getting right from the start. I hope you’ll share your ongoing project (and results) with us.

    • Scott Wagers on December 21, 2011 at 7:53 pm

      Yes will keep you up to date. The first workshop is the end of January.

  4. Andrea Meyer on January 2, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    Good luck for the first workshop!

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