Innovative thinking for the improvement of medical systems

Ann Intern Med. 1999 Sep 21;131(6):438-44. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-131-6-199909210-00009.


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.

MeSH terms

  • Creativity*
  • Delivery of Health Care / organization & administration*
  • Delivery of Health Care / standards*
  • Health Maintenance Organizations / organization & administration
  • Health Maintenance Organizations / standards
  • Humans
  • Office Management / organization & administration
  • Office Management / standards
  • Organizational Innovation
  • Quality of Health Care