Digital innovation to actively involve different healthcare stakeholders

To achieve sustainable innovations in the aftercare system, it is not only necessary to involve medical doctors but also physiotherapists and patients in the innovation process. Many classic approaches and models for the integration are not applicable due to the particularities of the health sector. Today, physicians are included as possible innovators, and there is no systematic approach to integrating all relevant stakeholders into the ideation process.

This research project aims to develop and validate the integration of physiotherapists as innovators in the ideation process with the help of a digital idea platform.
Two questions were of particular interest:

  • Under what conditions are physiotherapists able and motivated to determine concrete problem areas and collaboratively develop ideas? (e.g. in the form of digital services).
  • What challenges and barriers exist in the integration of physiotherapists in the ideation process?

The collaboration partners

At Christian-Albrechts-University in Kiel (CAU), Professor Carsten Schultz primarily conducts research on the challenges of innovations in healthcare and the development of sustainable products, services, and product-service systems. Buchner & Partner in Kiel delivers innovative and secure solutions and products to clear the way for excellent therapy. The excellent network access of B&P enables the CAU to collect empirical data from typically hard-to-reach healthcare providers, in this project, physiotherapists. Both B&P and the CAU have set up specific project teams to plan and organise the idea campaign. In cooperation, the CAU and B&P drew a project plan and exchanged ideas about the process of the digital idea campaign in regular meetings.

Idea campaign

All registered physiotherapists were asked to submit ideas based on the beforehand identified problem areas in the daily treatment of postoperative patients. Despite the research questions mentioned above, the purpose of the campaign was to collect innovative ideas on a larger scale as prospective solutions to improve the long-term treatment quality of postoperative patients.

The scientific evaluation of the conducted research in the first phase and a workshop in the final phase of the idea campaign resulted in the following key findings:

  • Motivation for the integration in the innovation process:

Physiotherapists all underlined the strenuous working conditions restricting the possibility and motivation to be part of the development process. In this regard, the research findings highlight the key role of intrinsic motivation to take over tasks beyond their formal responsibilities, especially in the absence of extrinsic drivers such as monetary payoffs.

  • Perceived relevance of the integration in the innovation process:

The physiotherapists see the main barrier in German ambulatory care in the missing integration of physiotherapists and the lack of collaboration between the different involved health disciplines. This affects the patient’s treatment negatively. On the other hand, most physiotherapists underlined the integration of physiotherapists in the innovation process as an important prerequisite for the emergence of new promising innovations in ambulatory care.

  • The personal innovation behaviour and academic education background of physiotherapists significantly affect the intention to participate in innovation projects:

All workshop participants consistently agreed that an idea campaign with an integrated idea platform was a promising and appropriate approach to encourage physiotherapists to participate in the ideation process. Thus, the underlying problem is not the selection of the approach itself but rather the lacking awareness of the relevance of the topic “innovation” on the part of German physiotherapists. The workshop participants recommended conducting further innovation projects such as idea campaigns in educational institutions and centres for physiotherapist students.