Health clinics are a common feature of most urban health care landscapes treating ailments and illnesses not serious enough to be treated by hospitals. But when was the last time you ran into a “clinic of innovation” – a clinic that treats ideas rather than patients? Chances are pretty low, unless you happened to be in Norway recently.

The outpatient Clinic of Innovation at Oslo University Hospital is literally one of a kind. Unlike traditional outpatient clinics that complement inpatient hospital care, the Clinic of Innovation builds a bridge between research and innovation on one hand and socially useful services and products on the other. Instead of catering to patients with illnesses, the Clinic of Innovation caters to individuals with ideas.

The brainchild of Drs. Andreas Moan and Kari Kværner, it was launched in 2007, on Dr. Moan’s return to Ullevaal Hospital, following an eleven-year stint with the pharmaceutical industry. On his return, Dr. Moan observed that the entrepreneurial and innovative mindset that he had experienced in the private sector was lacking in the hospital environment. He and Kari Kværner were convinced that more could be done to foster innovation by soliciting ideas from end-users and developing them to create useful products and services.  The Clinic works with two sets of customers: health care professionals, like nurses and doctors internal to the hospital system, and individuals, commercial parties, and research companies, external to the hospital system, but interested in collaborating on specific ideas with health care experts.

So, how does it work? Very much like a normal outpatient clinic, except that its procedures are applied to ideas rather than illnesses.

  • The process begins with a referral, when customers refer themselves to the Clinic for treatment with an idea for a product or service innovation. Ideas can also be submitted online, or via telephone, for initial vetting.  The Clinic guarantees full confidentiality and signs a confidentiality agreement with the client during the first appointment.
  • Next, the idea is diagnosed. Diagnostic work-ups at the Clinic involve evaluating an idea’s potential, using both research and commercial criteria.  External experts are called in to assist with the evaluation on an as needed basis.
  • Next, comes recommended therapy.  Based on the diagnosis, The Clinic my work directly with the owner of the idea, or suggest collaboration with other parties working on similar ideas, or those who can help refine and develop the idea further.
  • Occasionally, the Clinic may also offer follow-up consultation, in cases where an idea requires additional attention, or if it requires support in the implementation process.

I bet by now you are asking – all hype or substance too?  You be the judge. By its first birthday in 2008, the Clinic of Innovation had reviewed a total of forty ideas, which resulted in eight new technology projects. In addition, patent applications were filed for three new inventions.  More ideas have been submitted since then and by early this year the Clinic had received approximately eighty ideas.  Several of these have been developed into tangible products and services.

  • Tired of mopping up and drying beds after each birth, maternity ward nurse Astrid Skreosen worked on developing disposable super absorbent sheets using materials already in use in the refining industry to separate oil from water.
  • Information and service technologies targeted at reducing patient wait times and ensuring efficient and accurate administration of tests and procedures.

But the gold medal goes to “corneal tissue researchers” Tor Paaske Utheim and Sten Raeder.  Their innovation, which uses stem cells to grow corneal tissue, has opened up an entirely new realm of treatment possibilities.  Corneal tissue can now be stored for up to a week, which makes it possible to transport the tissue, which in turn makes production and treatment available in different parts of the world, including developing countries.  For further scientific and commercial development of the corneal tissue cultivation technology, The Clinic has established a collaborative partnership with Harvard University.  Institutions like the U.S. Department of Defense are also interested in collaborating to further develop the technology.

What started as an innovation experiment has become a full-fledged innovation movement.  Clinics of Innovation now exist in Denmark and Sweden as well.  The next stage in the Clinic’s evolution as an innovation accelerator is to shift a portion of the responsibility for disease prevention and treatment to people’s homes. In short, the Clinic would like to co-create wellbeing with customers of health care in their homes, not just in the hospital.  Towards this end, Oslo University Hospital has signed an enterprise-wide agreement with Induct to practice open innovation through the creation of virtual Innovation Communities.  It wants to tap into the creativity not just of its 24,000+ professional workforce, but anybody in the community who wants to contribute, to achieve its goal of becoming the world leader in healthcare innovation.

What lessons can commercial companies learn from the Clinic of Innovation?  I recently provided a range of answers to this question in my blog – Oslo Clinic Offers Treatment For Ideas – published on the Harvard Business Review website on August 18.  Do drop in to read and participate in the discussion.

By Dr. Gaurav Bhalla, PhD, strategy, innovation and marketing professional.