Five Insights From Our First Flip the Clinic Lab

By Thomas Goetz

When we decided to launch a second year of Flip the Clinic, we knew that we’d need to do more than just tend this website. We knew that we’d have to take this idea and ask people to wrestle with it, to see if we could get this notion of changing to the doctor-patient encounter to stick among real challenges and real limitations. In short, we knew that Flip the Clinic would have to get real.

Last week, we started that process in San Francisco. Working with the UCSF Center for Excellence in Primary Care, we gathered about 40 people together from all aspects of the healthcare system: digital health entrepreneurs, academics, experts in insurance, pharmacists, nurses, administrators, city health officials, physicians (both primary and specialists), policy wonks and – most important of all – several honest-to-goodness patients. We asked them to spend a day working through the potential of Flip the Clinic, but also to see where they could test our ideas in their own environment. We didn’t want to talk about change – we wanted to make it happen.

In a very busy day, we came away with some definite insights worthy of sharing here:

  • Physical connections matter. There’s nothing like a face-to-face talk to make your ideas clear and your concerns clearer. And when you’re working through a problem in person, you’ll have the chance to touch back later. Webinars and Hangouts are great, but there’s nothing like proximity to make things happen.
  • Have people of different stripes. It would’ve been easy to fill the room with well-meaning doctors and academics and hash over some common problems and opportunities. But we wanted to make sure that we were building a coalition, not consensus. Having patients there gave us a chance to gut-check every great idea with authentic experience. And having entrepreneurs there allowed us to test if the conventional approach was the best one. This range of voices and perspectives yielded great dividends.
  • Balance pragmatism with possibility. If the goal is flipping the clinic, it’s tempting to just start reinventing it from the ground up – and hoping somebody comes along to foot the bill. That’s an unlikely scenario, though, so we asked our workshop to consider the problem this way: Given your resources and influence, what’s the most we could get done? This creates necessary constraints of reality: we want to make things happen now, not just cook up ideas that might happen latter.
  • Find people with the same problem. Many of the most promising connections at the San Francisco lab happened when people realized that they were facing the same problem – and some were further along in solving it with a new approach. These were essential connections, and they set off sparks; they got people thinking that they could tackle a new approach, especially if someone else had already laid down some of the paving stones
  • Have fun. As much we demanded of everyone in San Francisco, it was a great day, filled with laughter and wit and even joy. Health and medicine can be wonderful things to participate it, and helping people find that joy can make for a more fruitful lab.

These are among the insights that we’ll be bringing to our next Flip the Clinic lab, in Phoenix on March 5. We’re really excited about this one, because it’s going to be such a different group, with markedly different ideas and needs, than the group in San Francisco. We’re eager to share what we’ve learned – but also to learn a lot more.