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Academia and the Profession |

Innovative Thinking for the Improvement of Medical Systems

Paul Plsek, MS
[+] Article, Author, and Disclosure Information

From Paul E. Plsek & Associates, Inc., Roswell, Georgia.

Acknowledgments: The author thanks the staff at HealthPartners, Minneapolis, Minnesota, who participated in the workshops. He also thanks colleagues at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement in Boston, Massachusetts, for encouragement and suggestions.

Requests for Reprints: Paul Plsek, MS, Paul E. Plsek & Associates, Inc., 1005 Allenbrook Lane, Roswell, GA 30075.

Ann Intern Med. 1999;131(6):438-444. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-131-6-199909210-00009
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If health care systems are not delivering the desired results, those systems must be changed in some way. Innovative thinking is sometimes needed to generate ideas for improvement. Many persons erroneously believe that innovative thinking is a special gift or that it requires an air of lightheartedness that seems inappropriate in a health care setting. Current research in the cognitive sciences has yielded methods to help individual persons and groups generate innovative ideas. These methods do not require any special gift and can be practiced in a serious way. Through a case example from a health maintenance organization, this paper shows that, given some direction, groups of health care professionals can produce useful and innovative ideas. The tools of idea generation are based on three principles: mental attention, escape, and movement. Activities that help persons pay attention to their current situations in a different way, escape their current mental patterns about the situation, and maintain movement in their thoughts support efforts to generate innovative, testable ideas for health system improvements. This paper illustrates several methods of stimulating innovative thinking and shows the ways in which they can be applied in health care.


Grahic Jump Location
Figure 1.
High-level flow chart of a typical visit to a clinic (from the patient's perspective).
Grahic Jump Location
Grahic Jump Location
Figure 2.
Ideas generated by building on a central idea.
Grahic Jump Location
Grahic Jump Location
Figure 3.
Beginnings of a concept fan for the process of patient intake in a clinical office.
Grahic Jump Location




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