How to define a health ecosystem to discover and design more value

Often, I get asked how I define a health ecosystem to frame problem enquiry, find opportunities and inform system-level value design, innovation and strategy. In this quick piece, I provide a summary of the key parameters (or types of context) I use, together with a few examples from projects I have undertaken with the Umio team.

Key contexts for framing a health ecosystem

Put simply, to frame a health ecosystem we use a combination of:

  • a beneficiary actor group together with a health status or condition, whether a particular patient or person type (e.g., persons with multiple sclerosis, persons at risk of heart failure, obese persons) or population cohort (e.g., the very elderly, neonates, teenagers). A health ecosystem is usually always framed from the perspective of the needs, nature of engagement or experience of beneficiary actors.
  • a care setting or other situational context (e.g., community, critical care unit, emergency unit)
  • the resource environment that defines the type, status and breadth of resources available to actors in the health ecosystem which itself is informed by economic, technological, political and social contexts. The resource environment is akin to the food and energy level that determines the sustainability and diversity of a natural ecosystem.
  • other adjacent health, care and social ecosystems, such as work, home, built environment, community and education ecosystems, where many of the social determinants of ill-health are found

We then define one or more purposes to frame an enquiry into the defined health ecosystem. A purpose captures a vision, ideal or possibility for a future state of the health ecosystem. Common purpose frames include to prevent, diagnose, treat, manage or maintain or obtain services for a particular health status or condition. More than one purpose may be defined. Once defined, we then search for the problems, patterns and perspectives that are preventing the purpose from being realised.

Avoid the pitfalls of solution-, technology- or product-first thinking

Unless we are evaluating an existing strategy, technology or asset, all our health ecosystem frames are free of current or planned solutions, whether IT systems, digital software, drugs, devices or any other form of intervention. This ensures we capture objective insights and avoid too-early assumptions. We include all ecosystem actors, direct and indirect, not only to see problems, patterns and opportunities from different perspectives but also reveal constraints on realising change. Our universal eight-level health ecosystem framework structures the overall approach and informs the choice of appropriate design methods and strategy. Value Frames are co-created with ecosystem actors, from which detailed value propositions are defined, all of which is done prior to solution design.

Example frames

Below is an example framing for the health ecosystem of Prevent Surgical Complications in Diabetic Patients.

Other example Umio health ecosystem frames (and client studies) include:

  • Lose and Maintain Weight (Obese Persons)
  • Avoid Complications in Diabetic Feet
  • Heal a Chronic Wound in the Community
  • Mitigate Infection Risk in Complex Surgery, and
  • Engage in a Clinical Trial (patient perspective).

More example projects can be found on our website. 

Discover more

To learn how we look inside a framed health ecosystem to discover opportunities, create value frames and design health system-level value propositions (and strategy, and organisations too), download our comprehensive publication, Design and Transform Value in Health: A Service Ecosystem Framework (short registration needed). Alternatively, for a quick taster of what we do and what makes us different, take a peek at our two-and-a-bit minute video.

Attend an introductory Health Value Design® workshop

For a hands-on introduction, come along to one of my workshops on Health Value Design®, upcoming in London, Amsterdam and Boston. For more information and to book, visit here. See you there !

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