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Why outside-in thinking is crucial to the future of health innovation

As modern healthcare looks increasingly to put health solutions in a wider context of lifelong prevention and management, it is more important than ever for health innovators to look beyond the health sector to read the innovation signals from the wider world. This outside-in way of thinking will be increasingly important for driving improved health outcomes.

Consumer experiences across all categories are growing increasingly complex and interconnected, underpinned by scientific and technological innovation. And health is no exception. Consumers of premium probiotic yogurts, for example, are offered health apps to support the proactive health management that these yogurts promise. Apps for monitoring financial health share similar user experience and design with apps for monitoring our bodily health signs.

People are constantly exposed to new ideas in different areas of their lives that will influence their expectations about what might be available and what might be possible in other areas of their lives. And they are increasingly used to seeing, and expecting, the best new ideas being adopted across industry sectors or product categories.

An example of this kind of cross-category borrowing can be seen in COPD treatment (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). Here, new mobile device and sensor technologies offer the potential to transform COPD treatment by monitoring patients’ health and helping to adapt their behavior to ensure maximum treatment compliance and health improvement. The challenge is that many COPD sufferers are from population groups who are less familiar and confident with new technologies. With low smartphone app usage in the population over 65, COPD app developers have drawn inspiration from the surge in adoption of tablet computers by older users (up by over 25% in the past year).1 And they are particularly motivated by the success of brain training, reading and puzzle apps that take advantage of the large and easy-to-navigate screen. Engaging and easy-to-use tablet-based COPD apps now bring the prospect of significantly improved health outcomes, with claims that hospital admissions could be reduced by as much as 40%.2

Of course, it’s one thing to recognize that there are new ideas emerging outside the health sector which could open up vital new opportunities for innovation within it – but another thing to put that into practice. The world is a big place! Where should you look?

Our experience has shown that if you start with a rigorous and structured understanding of the emerging needs within your sector, you can use this structure as a guide to where to look. It’s about identifying the industry sectors and product categories beyond your world which are driven by similar emerging benefits and similar dynamics. The next step then is to look for the new ideas that are offering change in those categories and, finally, to translate those ideas back into a form that can open up new opportunities within health.

Outside-in innovative thinking is an approach which has long been adopted in mature and competitive consumer goods categories to find a precious competitive advantage. As innovation for the next generation of health solutions becomes increasingly holistic, we believe that outside-in thinking will become increasingly valuable in the health sector, too.

For more information, contact Simon Pulman-Jones at

1Adults’ Media Use and Attitudes Report 2014. Report by UK telecommunications regulator Ofcom, published 29/4/14

2 Futura mHealth a Temple University spin off company, has developed an app the company says can reduce hospital admissions for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) by 38 to 40 percent. (, 19/8/13

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