Young Social Innovators “Flip Out” for Health and Health Care in L.A.

Shaheen MamawalaBy

Shaheen Mamawala, MPA, is a communications associate at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

If you had five hours to engage a dozen young, energetic social innovators on a pressing systemic challenge, how would you do it?

I found out when I attended the Los Angeles Social Innovation Scrimmage in March as part of StartingBloc’s Institute for Social Innovation. StartingBloc brings together young entrepreneurs and innovators who are working to create change across multiple sectors, connects them to one another, and gives them access to the tools, resources and support needed to create impact. Full disclosure: I was a StartingBloc Fellow in 2011.

The Scrimmage, run by the Millennial-led organization ReWork, was designed to give StartingBloc participants an opportunity to collaborate with organizations facing real-life challenges. The challenge statement that I shared was “How might we help patients and doctors communicate more openly during a medical visit in a way that results in better care?” This is the question at the core of Flip the Clinic, a project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that aims to re-imagine the medical encounter between patients and care providers.


To address the challenge, the team used a social innovation technique called rapid prototyping. This method, which aims to accelerate the innovation process, requires participants to set rate-based goals—that is, smaller, iterative goals meant to be achieved in a shorter time frame. The premise is that testing many strategies within a brief period of time increases the probability of learning, and therefore the probability of success.

To make Flip the Clinic more tangible, I introduced one physical prototype: a deck of “Flip Cards” printed with a series of emotional prompts that would be found in a doctor’s waiting room and would be used to help remove the barriers blocking open communication between patients and doctors. The team decided to rapid prototype in three areas: usability of the cards, the creation of a technological supplement, and messaging of the cards to doctors and to patients.

In all cases, ideas were prototyped with other Scrimmage attendees acting as user testers offering real-time feedback. With each iteration, Flip the Clinic team members would frame a scenario for a user tester, observe his or her interaction with a prototype, ask a brief series of experience questions, and then repeat.

If this sounds a lot like organized chaos, it was. By the midpoint of the Scrimmage, team members had learned a lot. For example, while a “Cards Against Humanity” version of Flip Cards did not resonate well with users, a personalized, condensed version did. In addition, user testers simulating both patients and doctors expressed that they liked having a touch point with the Flip Cards prior to the waiting room encounter.

In the second half of the Scrimmage, the team put forth a new hypothesis: what if they combined lessons learned around usability, technology, and messaging and designed an ideal user experience for both the patient and the doctor?

Capitalizing on their varied backgrounds, skills sets, and learning styles, the team worked together to put forth an elegant flow that included personalization, a technology component, coordination of care, and ultimately, the reduction of barriers to patient-doctor communication. Suddenly, the interaction in its entirety was illuminated as greater than the sum of its parts.

Participating in the Scrimmage left me with a newfound conviction that rapid prototyping does indeed increase innovation and learning (chants of “Don’t guess. Learn! Don’t ‘fail.’ Learn!” are still reverberating). What is an even stronger proof point, however, is the power of collaboration, as demonstrated by a dozen young social innovators who serve as a microcosm for a much larger community.

And that’s where you come in. Flip the Clinic is not just a project; it’s a conversation. And it’s not just a health and health care conversation – it is a human conversation. Whether you are a patient, a practitioner, a provider, or a community member, your voice should be part of that conversation. How do you think we can “flip” the medical encounter to lead to better outcomes? Share your ideas today.