Could the frugal approach adopted during the pandemic to rapidly develop new healthcare products and services offer long lasting benefits to the sector? This is the question discussed by authors Stéphanie BM Cadeddu, Suchit Ahuja and Hassane Alami in their paper How does frugal innovation offer a new form of solidarity in a pandemic and post-pandemic context?
The paper reviews a number of frugal innovations worldwide and looks at the lessons learnt. The innovations were often funded by philanthropic foundations and delivered solutions that were benefited large numbers of people irrespective of their financial status.
Delivering improved health services to the masses
The authors contrast this ‘health for the masses’ approach to that more recently adopted of investment in sophisticated technology to benefit a smaller group of people in more affluent circumstances, eg proton therapy treatments for cancer, arguing that “economic growth should no longer be the priority” in healthcare. It has been shown that “Optimised simple solutions – available to and accessible by everyone – can respond to health inequities”.
Lessons from the pandemic
The paper proposes that innovation during the COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to rethink the innovation paradigm of Western countries, and gives three examples of how simplified, frugal solutions could be adopted to address healthcare in situations of scarcity.
- Horizontal sharing economy – frugal innovation practices often allow ordinary citizens to access makers labs and sophisticated manufacturing equipment such as 3D printers. This is a quicker and more agile way to mobilise innovation.
The authors give the example of 3D printing on demand projects such as:
- the PATH preventative face shield, which was made using locally available materials by a community of innovators, financed by foundations.
- The Field Emergency Ventilator system, designed by a volunteer team of designers, engineers and medical practitioners working closely with frontline health workers to understand local problems
- Digitisation leads to low-cost, high impact solutions – many of the innovations utilised social media, mobile phones, analytics, Internet-of things (IOT) and cloud. For example the smart phone was used as a platform for delivering both hyper-local and remote services at scale. Interestingly, it was easier to role out services in India where there was already affordable digital channels than in parts of rural America which did not have a broadband infrastructure.
- Harnessing existing capabilities and developing skills of others – the importance of optimising and repurposing current and new human resources, was used widely. The paper gives the example of mobile testing units set up close to the point of need and training lower-skilled community health workers to staff them.
Achieving ‘Quintuple Aims’
The authors conclude that frugal innovation offers a major lever for achieving the quintuple values of healthcare foundations:
- Patient care and experience
- Equitable distribution of resources
- Cost reductions
- Ensuring quality of work and well-being of health professionals
- Equity and inclusion
The synergy between the objectives of healthcare foundations – a desire to improve access and equitable distribution of healthcare – and the practice of frugal innovation, suggests that funding of frugal initiatives by philanthropic institutes may have a valuable, transformative role in the delivery of healthcare in the future.
The paper can be accessed here:
L’Année PhiLanthropique – The PhiLanthropic Year. Hors-Série 2020- Covid-19