Why Frugal Innovation Skills Improve Outcomes for Patients in Low-Resource Environments
14 March 2023
Frugal innovation is about identifying and applying an elegant solution to a problem with whatever resources you have available. The process of frugal innovation often involves ‘outside the box’ thinking to solve challenges in a creative way, but crucially by making the most of any limited resources. In short, the concept is about doing better with less. By concentrating on user-centred design, focusing on core functionalities, reducing cost and waste, frugal innovation can produce elegant, context-specific solutions to complex problems.
In healthcare, frugal innovation results in greener, more sustainable, and more cost-effective medical technologies that can address unmet healthcare needs even in the most low-resource environments. Frugal technologies are increasingly being adopted in low, middle and high-income contexts because of the value for money and increased access to healthcare through curbing rising global healthcare costs. The value of frugal methodologies is being recognised by researchers, healthcare professionals and industry. Businesses are exploring how frugal principles can improve their internal working practices, product development and company scaling to maximise growth and value creation in a sustainable way.
Despite the benefits of frugal innovation, there is limited understanding and skills among the healthcare professional population, and this hampers the potential positive impact for patients. To help address this issue, a Frugal Innovation Skills Course has launched to provide free online skills training to anyone who wants to frugally innovate in healthcare. The project is funded by the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh Global Surgery Foundation, and is coordinated by GASOC (Global Anaesthesia, Surgery and Obstetric Collaboration). There are several collaborative partners, including MedAll, Lifebox, MedTech Foundation, Association of Surgeons in Training, and the NIHR Global Health Research Unit on Global Surgery. Please see the links at the end of the article if you would like to find out more about these partners.
This project aims to create a free, virtual, online, modular, educational programme that provides participants with foundational knowledge to find solutions to unmet needs that they can apply to practice in resource constrained settings. After the course, innovation projects will be co-developed and delivered by innovation leaders in low resource environments.
Innovation for low-resource settings requires a specific set of skills and knowledge of innovation methodology including frugal, responsible, reverse, and disruptive innovation. Safe surgery is reliant on continual innovation, and the Lancet Commission on Global Surgery highlighted that context-specific technologies will play an important role in upscaling surgical care to achieve Universal Health Coverage by 2030. The key to successful frugal innovation is interdisciplinary and global collaboration, which is driven by the surgical workforce in low-resource environments. Addressing knowledge and skills gaps in innovation processes, whilst providing a platform for career development and networking between innovators in these environments, will support context-specific innovation solutions for patients in low resource settings. By providing a combination of this collaborative interdisciplinary working with skills and capabilities in global surgical innovation, this project provides a unique resource.
The Frugal Innovation Skills Course comprises of an online, taught, asynchronous eight-module educational programme covering a range of innovation and research skills for surgeons (and allied specialties such as anaesthesia, obstetrics, and trauma care practitioners). The extended healthcare team and those from other disciplines (engineering, technology, science, industry) will also find the course useful, and the course is open access for all who wish to learn. The modules are available on catch-up, so busy participants from any time zone can access educational content on-demand at a convenient time. Sessions are hosted live for those who wish to attend in real-time. Once participants have gained the necessary skills, they will then have the chance to put these into practice in a virtual guided innovation hackathon, to develop a potential innovative solution to an unmet need in global surgery. The project provides funding for promising frugal innovations at the end of the course as well as practical support to deliver innovation activities.
After an introduction to frugal innovation, participants will be presented with a range of current unmet needs in global surgery from faculty working in low-resource settings. Beginning to think about how these needs may be addressed, technology design for low-resource settings will be presented by engineers, product designers and industry experts. It is important to remember that not every unmet need requires a device solution. Innovations in systems and processes, or the way the workforce is trained, are also critical to tacking complex problems in healthcare. Principles central to innovation in these areas will be presented. Once a solution is created, it must be appropriately evaluated to inform how it is used in practice and essential frugal research skills will be demonstrated. A range of key frugal innovation case studies will be shared with participants to inspire them about how they may take their ideas forward. Towards the end of the course, participants will form global interdisciplinary teams through a hackathon event to apply the new knowledge and skills they have gained to a real project they wish to work on. Finally, these teams will apply for innovation project funding to kickstart their innovation solutions for low-resource environments.
Partner organisations for the course:
Written by William Bolton, Gerard McKnight, Noel Aruparayil, Anurag Mishra, Helen Please, Josh Burke, Angela Lam, Kris Torgeson, James Glasbey, Peter Culmer and Gnanaraj Jesudian.
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